TDS Telecom has big plans for Big Sky Country, plotting the rollout of fiber to a total of more than 150,000 locations in Montana, the operator's SVP of Corporate Affairs Drew Petersen told Fierce. To support the build, it recently opened two new warehouses in the state and is looking to hire two dozen new employees there. It’s also looking to reach nearly 40,000 new locations in Wisconsin and thousands elsewhere across its footprint.
Billings became the first city in Montana to get fiber from TDS, with the operator lighting up service there in August of last year after starting construction in September 2021. It launched with service available to more than 1,300 addresses there and said it eventually plans to cover more than 50,000 in the city.
The operator is also looking to run fiber to the cities of Butte, Helena, Missoula, and Great Falls. It seems activity will be concentrated in Helena and Missoula, which are set to get more than 27,000 and 35,000 passings, respectively. The cities are also home to TDS Telecom’s newly opened warehouses.
In a press release last week, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte indicated TDS’ expansion will be fueled by a $160 million investment from the company. Petersen confirmed the build there is privately funded.
To help support the build, TDS has already hired 45 employees in the state and is looking to add another 25. According to its website, it is looking for fiber splicers, outside plan engineers, construction technicians, field service technicians and field marketing leaders.
The operator has also contracted TAK West Shore out of Wisconsin and CEC Facilities Group from Texas to help with network construction.
Its plan for Montana comes as the operator looks to blanket 1.2 million locations across its footprint with fiber by 2026. TDS added 133,000 new passings in 2022 to end the year with 582,000. It plans to build another 175,000 passings this year. It was not immediately clear how many of those will be in Montana.
In terms of big-name competition within the state, it seems TDS Telecom will primarily be squaring off against Charter Communications as well as Lumen Technologies. Local competitors include Montana Internet, which provides fiber primarily in Helena and Boulder, and Treasure State Internet and Telegraph.
Charter mostly serves Montana with its cable product, but the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband map shows that as of June 2022 it had deployed fiber in parts of Billings, Bozeman, Missoula and Whitefish. In December, Charter also won $110 million in grants from the state of Montana for 17 fiber projects there. The grants cover work in Cascade, Silver Bow, Missoula, and Lewis and Clark Counties, which are home to the cities where TDS is planning to build.
Montana isn’t TDS Telecom’s only target. Petersen said it is "building fiber networks to about 100 communities" in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Idaho, Washington and New Mexico. Thus far in 2023, the operator has also put out press releases announcing fiber work in Tennessee, Indiana and Maine.
In Wisconsin specifically, the operator said it plans to cover 12,000 addresses in Onalaska and Sparta; 8,000 locations in Fitchburg; 5,000 in Menomonie; 4,000 in Altoona; 3,800 in Twin Lakes; 3,800 in Whitewater; and 3,000 across Bangor, Rockland and West Salem.
It is also tackling 300 locations in Hillsboro, Indiana and aiming to reach 2,500 locations in Bruceton, Tennessee. TDS Telecom’s expansion in Maine – which is designed to reach more than 30 communities – is also ongoing, with construction underway on a project to bring fiber to 1,800 homes in the town of Warren and work scheduled to begin soon in the towns of Harmony, Ripley, Solon, and Embden. In January, the operator also received a grant in Maine which will help it cover all of Swan’s Island, with work there set to kick off later this year.
This story has been updated with comments from TDS Telecom's Drew Petersen.