On May 8th, voters in Sharon Township, Michigan, will decide whether or not they want to pursue an initiative to invest in a publicly owned fiber optic network. People in the community of less than 2,000 people don’t expect the national ISPs to bring them the connectivity they need, so they will decide if they should take another approach to connect every one with high-quality Internet access.
Like Nearby Lyndon
Sharon Township residents and businesses find themselves in the same type of situation Lyndon Township faced before they decided to take action to develop a network. There is limited wired Internet access in the community, but it’s almost always slow DSL from Frontier or AT&T. Many people must rely on expensive and unreliable satellite for service. Comcast also claims to have a small presence in Sharon Township.
When township supervisor Peter Psarouthakis tried to connect with representatives from incumbents to talk about improving services, he couldn’t reach anyone who could make decisions. Next, community leaders asked smaller companies to serve their areas, but "They told us they have no plans to operate in our township because we don't have enough people, and the return on investment isn't going to be there for them.”
When residents and business owners completed a survey in 2013 as the community considered what route to take, 70 percent of respondents said that their current ISP did not meet their needs; 95 percent expressed an interest in alternative choices for Internet access. Since then, community leaders have hired a consultant to develop a feasibility study and Sharon Broadband Yes, a grassroots group advocating for a fiber network, has formed to educate the public.
The group is asking voters to pass a broadband bond proposal to allow the community to issue $4.9 million in general obligation bonds to fund a fiber optic network project. Community leaders accepted the estimate from the consultant’s feasibility study, which was completed about a year ago. As in Lyndon Township, the bonds would be repaid with a “millage” in which local property owners pay a certain dollar amount per $1,000 of taxable value of their home. In Sharon Township, that figure is $3.2583 or 3.2518 mills.
Because higher valued property would pay a higher amount toward the project, the Sharon Broadband Yes group has offered a “High-Speed Internet Millage Calculator” on their website. The calculator allows property owners to input what they currently pay for Internet access and the taxable value of their property so they can make a comparison to what they will likely pay if the project proceeds.
Sharon Broadband Yes also provides answers to many questions that people typically ask, addressing large matters about the project or practical questions potential subscribers might have about their service. They’re educating people in the community so voters can make an informed decision about the bonding proposal.
Feasibility In Sharon
CCG Consulting presented the results of a feasibility study in February 2017 and their first recommendation was that Sharon Township partner with other communities in the region to create a larger ISP. According to the Sharon Broadband Yes FAQ page, the town plans to build and own the infrastructure and work with an operator.
The nonprofit Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) has worked closely with Sharon Township, Lyndon Township, and a list of other communities in the region that are considering investing in Internet infrastructure. Eight member communities, which include Sharon and Lyndon Townships, belong to the cooperative.
You can learn more about last year’s successful ballot measure in Lyndon Township and MBC by listening to episode 272 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Christopher interviewed Ben Fineman from MBC along with Marc Keezer and Gary Munce from Lyndon Township.