The Montana Broadband Program stopped in Havre on Tuesday to talk with local leaders about how important high-speed Internet access is to Havre and communities around it.
The meeting brought political figures such as Rep. Kris Hansen, Bear Paw Development Corp. Executive Director Paul Tuss and Triangle Communications President Rick Stevens.
The visitors came to Montana State University-Northern as one of 14 stops, having gone mostly around the eastern part of state so far, to gather information about broadband use in this rural state and what can be done to improve availability, accessibility and usage.
The Montana Broadband Program is funded through a grant from the U. S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration to the Montana State Information Technology Services Division, which is tasked with making reliable, affordable and accessible broadband Internet access.
The goal is to ultimately ensure access to Internet connections capable of 100 megabites per second download speeds, more than 20-times the current national average, and 50 mbps upload speeds.
After the initial introduction, a panel of local leaders assembled by Bear Paw Development talked about how vital reliable and fast Internet access is to what they do.
Jared Payne, executive director of the Sweet Medical Center in Chinook, told the room about their Internet-based work, from changing over from rooms full of paper files into digital documents to the increasing use of tele-medicine, or having patients consult with doctors by online video conferencing.
Keri VanCampen, a
pharmacist living in Chester, said that broadband etechnology allowed her and her husband to run additional pharmacies in Three Forks and Harlowton from inside their Chester pharmacy.
They talk with patients and their employees in those other offices, hours away, with video conferencing, making sure their pharmacy technicians fill the right prescription and helping their customers from a computer screen.
Havre business woman Renelle Braaten, founder and owner of Enell sportswear for women, said that she would not be able to run her business nearly as well without broadband access. In fact seeing its capabilities, she said she is working on using these technologies even more.
"We wouldn't be in business without it, " Braaten said. "Most of our business is not in Montana. It's in the metropolitan areas. "
She said the Internet helps her manage her international business, working with retailers in 12 countries, while overseeing employees beyond her Havre team, in Portland, Ore., supplies in Virginia and manufacturing in Mexico.
After hearing from community members about it's impact, discussion opened up throughout the room about what could or should be done by the state to help expand this kind of activity, while also keeping an eye on the state's intentions in the industry.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, asked about concerns of too much state-involvement getting in the way of some progress.
The event's hosts, Kate McMahon and Paul DeWolfe, reassured her and others that "there is no intention by the state of Montana to interfere with any infrastructure. "
Rick Stevens, president of Triangle Communications, said that "takes a lot of concern from us" about the possibility of this program messing with their existing programs or services offered from the Canadian border down to Wyoming.
The presenters then led group polling and discussion about how services are mostly used, how they should be used and how to get them to be used in those ways.
They will take those responses and, with the responses from all 14 such meetings, will begin forming a broadband plan for the state to get Montana to that 100 mbps standard.