I fondly remember summers in Montana, fishing with my grandparents and watching deer stroll through the yard. My grandparents didn’t have internet at their home in Libby, but times have changed. If they lived there today, they would probably have fiber internet from Ziply. Libby is one of the lucky locales in the Treasure State with fiber access. Most Montanans work with cable, DSL, fixed wireless or satellite internet.
Montana has no great reputation for fast, reliable and affordable internet. Ookla’s Speedtest data ranks it way down in 49th place among the states (and Washington DC), with only Wyoming and Alaska coming in behind Montana. However, most city dwellers can still access decent broadband speeds.
Spectrum is CNET’s top pick for best ISP in the state. The cable provider delivers gig-level broadband to many of the population centers in Montana. CNET examines customer service, speed, pricing and overall value before recommending the best broadband in your area. Spectrum is joined by other recommendations, including CenturyLink for availability and TDS Telecom as an ISP to watch. Whether you’re moving to Montana or looking to upgrade your current broadband situation, this guide will help you navigate your ISP options.
Best internet options in Montana
Montana can be a tricky place to shop for internet service. A few lucky households can get fiber, but most city dwellers will be comparing Spectrum and CenturyLink. Those living the rural life can weigh choices ranging from local fixed wireless ISPs to satellite internet from Starlink or Viasat. All prices listed on this page reflect available discounts for setting up paperless billing. If you decide not to go with automatic monthly payments, your price will be higher.
Note: The prices, speeds and features detailed in the article text may differ from those listed in the product detail cards, representing providers’ national offerings. Your internet service options — including prices and speeds — depend on your address and may differ from those detailed here.
Rural internet options in Montana
|Covers over half of Montana households
|Great Falls area
|Missoula Valley Internet Co-op
|Typically $25-$100 based on usage
|$65-$89 for fixed wireless
|Great Falls, Helena and Lewiston areas
|Marion, Kalispell, Whitefish, West Glacier, Libby, Troy, Lakeside and more
Show more (4 items)
Source: CNET analysis of provider data
People who live in rural homes, ranches and farms need decent internet for work and play. That can be a challenge in some parts of Montana. Satellite internet from Starlink, Viasat or HughesNet is a fallback, but it tends to be expensive, and speeds may be less than desirable. When it comes to wired internet, your best bet will likely be CenturyLink DSL, which often has a wider coverage area than most other alternatives. Speeds, however, can be extremely variable by location and max out at 100Mbps.
Montana is dotted with local ISPs that offer fixed wireless for rural locations, sometimes paired with a smaller fiber footprint. Our chart covers some options available across the state, but there are more than we’ve listed here. Fixed wireless speeds can vary based on location. You’ll need a good line of sight to a tower. Here’s how fixed wireless compares to other types of internet connections. Most fixed wireless ISPs have fairly standard plans with pricing based on speed. The Missoula Vallery Internet Co-op is an exception. It charges based on usage. Montana could use some improvement in rural broadband options. The state is well aware of the issue and is in the process of pouring funding into improving access to more remote communities as well as ranches and farms.
Montana broadband at a glance
The FCC National Broadband Map shows all Montana households can access broadband internet, but that doesn’t give a complete picture of the internet scene in the Treasure State. The FCC defines broadband as at least 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up, and it includes satellite internet in its estimate. Satellite can be expensive and slow and is not necessarily a good fit for all rural locations. The state government says 5% of Montanans live in underserved areas and 13% live in unserved areas.
FCC data shows less than 20% of Montana households can access fiber internet, and if we’re talking at least gigabit speeds, that number drops to 16%. Not surprisingly, you’re most likely to find fiber in bigger cities, but even then, it’s a bit scattershot. There are some exceptions. Libby, a town of less than 3,000 residents, is covered by Ziply Fiber. If fiber is important to you for remote work or gaming, that narrows your options for places to live in Montana. If you can get by with gig downloads and 35Mbps uploads, Spectrum covers much more ground.
Montana broadband speeds
Montana’s poor showing in Ookla’s state speed test rankings indicates the challenges involved with rural broadband in the state. It’s also tied to a lack of fiber offerings and ISP competition in the cities. Regarding gig speeds, FCC data shows only 16% of Montana homes are covered. Of Montana’s most populous cities, Billings sports a 211Mbps median download speed, while Missoula comes in at 189Mbps and Great Falls is at 209Mbps. If the state capital is on your radar, read CNET’s guide to the best broadband providers in Helena.
Ookla highlights Spectrum as Montana’s fastest provider, with a median download speed of 216Mbps. The downside of cable is that you’re stuck with slower upload speeds. For symmetrical speeds, you need to turn to fiber. Montana includes some coverage from Quantum Fiber, Ziply Fiber, TDS Telecom or local ISPs like Montana Internet and Grizzly Broadband. If you’re currently battling pokey internet speeds, there are some things you can try to improve your situation. Check out these four essential steps for speeding up your internet connection.
Internet pricing in Montana
Home internet pricing is variable in Montana. On the low end, you can bundle an eligible T-Mobile phone plan with an internet plan to bring your internet price down to $30 per month. Most ISPs, however, kick off at the $50 and above level. That includes CenturyLink’s DSL networks and Quantum Fiber’s lowest tier, with the fiber plan being a superior deal for 500Mbps service. Availability is a big issue, though. Spectrum’s 500Mbps plan at $50 per month is one of the better values in Montana, but prepare yourself for a price hike once the two-year promotional period is up. You can always try to negotiate back to a better deal.
Internet for low-income households in Montana
Federal assistance is available through the Affordable Connectivity Program for qualifying low-income households. The ACP can knock $30 ($75 on tribal lands) off your monthly bill. That means free or cheap internet. Most ISPs participate and some offer special plans for ACP-eligible customers. Spectrum, for example, has a no-cost 100Mbps plan that includes a modem. You can also choose a discount on a faster plan.
The future of broadband in Montana
Since Montana is already near the bottom in internet speed for the US, there’s nowhere to go but up. Fortunately, there’s some movement in that direction, particularly regarding fiber availability. TDS Telecom announced in early 2023 that it would bring fiber speeds of up to 8 gigs to Helena, Butte, Missoula and Great Falls. It was already working on fiber in Billings. By the time TDS is done, it will service 150,000 homes and businesses.
A considerable amount of funding is coming to expand broadband to underserved and unserved areas of the state. The federal Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program is delivering $630 million in funding. That’s in addition to a $309 million infrastructure investment announced by Governor Greg Gianforte in late 2022. That money is aimed at bringing reliable broadband to 62,000 homes, small businesses, farms and ranches.