Allegan County, Michigan Zeroes in On New Open Access Fiber Network

Allegan County, Michigan is moving forward with an ambitious new plan to bring affordable fiber broadband to 12,000 unserved addresses across the county. The project will be in partnership with Southfield, Michigan based 123NET, made possible in large part due to more than $17.7 million in county American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“123NET has proposed a fiber to the home proposal to approximately 12,000 addresses of residents who don’t have access to 100 Mbps (Megabit per second) download fixed service,” Allegan County Broadband Project Manager Jill Dunham told ISLR. 

According to the county’s website, the Allegan County broadband Internet access project first began when the county commission approved a resolution to form a Broadband Action Workgroup, which started meeting back on August 8, 2021.

The county has since constructed a four-part broadband expansion plan that promises to deliver 12,000 unserved addresses affordable fiber connectivity providing at least 100 Mbps downstream and 25 Mbps upstream, now effectively the standard in federally subsidized new broadband deployments.  

According to the county, the path toward breaking ground involves ensuring Rescue Plan fund eligibility, hiring a project lead, bringing in additional project partners and other outside advisors, gathering data to ensure project goals will be met, and then putting it all together to implement plans for increased accessibility. 

On Thursday, November 10, county leaders announced they had awarded the contract to 123NET, which is also partnering with the city of Detroit to construct an open access fiber network. The company’s other deployments provide fiber speeds up to 6 Gigabits per second (Gbps) without usage caps. 

11 different companies applied for the Allegan county bid, with 123NET being chosen by three county employees and three members of the Broadband Action workgroup. 

As with 123NET’s Detroit effort, the Allegan county network is slated to be open access, drawing numerous ISPs into much-needed competition that should drive down prices and improve overall customer service for local residents. Like most U.S. communities many Allegan residents are trapped under a monopoly or duopoly for broadband access. 

Allegan county leaders say the total price tag for the project should be somewhere around $70 million dollars, with $17 million coming from Rescue Plan funded grants, and the rest made up of a mix of provider capital (123NET is promising to match the county’s investment total) and unspecified additional state and federal funding. 

Once funding is securely in place county leaders say the network should take somewhere between eighteen to twenty-four months to complete. 

“We are feeling confident about 123NET being successful in receiving a ROBIN grant application for the remaining $35.5M needed to fund the $70.9M project,” Dunham said. “If 123NET is successful, then we expect construction to begin in summer 2023. I would expect the first customers would have service in the fall of 2023.”

Durham added that if 123Net does not receive a ROBIN grant it has already applied for, the company will apply for a BEAD grant and the county will reassess their projected timeline.