By Tim Leeds
Qwest is moving forward in its contract with the state of Montana to upgrade its broadband voice, data and video network, with four cities including Havre set to receive the service this summer.
The contract is for Qwest to provide the service to state agencies and universities, but it will be available to everyone in the communities, Qwest's Montana president Rick Hays said.
"It's really the platform, if you will, that others can build on," Hays said. "That's the beauty of what the state has done."
The communities, as well as the government entities, will have more efficient access to applications of the service, including teleconferencing, distance learning, public safety and on-line client services.
Hays said the services are available, but the new system will increase efficiency and the ease of providing and using them, and reduce the cost. Instead of needing separate lines for each part of the service, one line will provide them.
The work involves installing new equipment and capabilities in the communities' switching offices.
Each upgrade will take about a month to complete once work starts, Hays said. The precise schedule of work is not available yet, he said, but design and engineering will begin this winter and the upgrades should be completed no later than the middle of the year.
The cost for local businesses or groups to use the services will vary with the precise services they want, Hays said. It will depend on what functions are used and what locations are being connected.
The services are tailored to the needs of the business or organization, he said.
While the specialized service would be available for residential customers, Hays said he can't see the benefit for a basic customer.
The service is being upgraded in the four cities - Havre, Butte, Miles City and Dillon - as the second phase of a $10 million contract between the state and Qwest. The first phase, begun in 2000, established the service between Billings, Bozeman, Helena, Missoula, Great Falls and Kalispell.
But there could be a benefit to the communities beyond having the services available, he said - recruitment and economic development.
"This is, in addition to being good for customers in Havre today, also an economic opportunity," Hays said. "It's going to be a benefit to Havre for a number of years. It's truly state-of-the-art. There's nothing more advanced in the field today."