In August, voters in Lyndon Township, Michigan, will decide whether or not they want to approve a plan to invest in publicly owned fiber optic Internet infrastructure.
It’s All In The Mills
Voters are being asked to approve a millage increase of 2.9 over a 20-year period. In other words, property taxes will increase approximately $2.91 per $1,000 of taxable value of a property. Those funds will be used to fund a bond to finance the project; city leaders have already determined that the principal amount of the project will not exceed $7 million.
Once the infrastructure has been completed, the community plans to partner with one or more Internet Service Provider (ISP). Estimates for monthly millage bond costs and monthly cost for Internet access at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) are approximately $57 for Lyndon Township’s average homeowner. Gigabit access will be available and will cost about $25 more each month.
If funding is approved, the community expects to finish the project and be using their new Internet infrastructure by the end of 2018.
Supported By Citizens
The issue of better connectivity in Lyndon Township isn’t a new one. At a meeting in March 2016, Township Board members voted 5-0 to fund a feasibility study. The Board had approached providers about improving connectivity in the area, but none considered an investment in Lyndon Township a good investment.
At the meeting, members of a broadband initiative started by local residents shared their stories. As is often the case, local residents described driving to the library or Township Hall to access the Internet because their own homes were unserved or connectivity is so poor. According to a Chelsea Update article, when the Board approved the feasibility funding, “[t]here was a vigorous round of applause from the crowd.”
About 80 percent of the community does not have access to FCC defined broadband at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. In the summer of 2016 when property owners received a survey about Internet access with their property tax bills, 83 percent of those who replied and were registered voters described high-quality Internet access as “important” or “very important.” It was listed as second in a ranked list of priorities; water quality was number one.
Lyndon Township is 36 square miles and home to about 2,800 people. It's mostly rural and while it’s lack of population density makes for clean air, quiet nights, and enjoyable wildlife viewing, national ISPs can’t see the reason for expanding there. It’s a bad situation for homeowners and their kids:
“We live in Washtenaw County, within twenty miles of the University of Michigan, seven miles from downtown Chelsea and cannot get a high-speed internet connection. My husband has to drive to the Chelsea District Library to complete many of his work requirements, as well as my children with their college and job-hunting connection needs.”
The Ballot Initiative
People in Lyndon Township know that the only way to fix the problem is to handle it themselves:
“We came to the mutual conclusion that nobody else is going to fix this broadband problem for us…if we, as Lyndon Township residents and surrounding townships, want it fixed we need to do something about it ourselves,” said Ben Fineman of Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBCOOP).
MBCOOP is a group of volunteers in Washtenaw County that have banded together to seek out ways to improve connectivity in the communities of the county. They've developed a website with information on each of the communities in the county where efforts are underway. Check out their FAQs on Lyndon's project. They have also prepared a handout about the bond and funding for the project.
On August 8th, voters in the township will be asked:
Shall the Township of Lyndon, County of Washtenaw, Michigan, borrow the principal sum of not to exceed Seven Million Dollars ($7,000,000) and issue its general obligation unlimited tax bonds, in one or more series, payable in not to exceed twenty (20) years from the date of issue of each series, for the purpose of paying the cost to acquire, construct, furnish, and equip capital improvements consisting generally of a fiber optic infrastructure to provide broadband internet service in the Township including, but not limited to, fiber optic backbone, service lines, necessary electronics, rights-of-way, accessories and attachments thereto and any other related component, equipment or cost necessary to place the improvements into service?
The community of Leverett, Massachusetts, was faced with a similar situation. Many of the people in their community were using expensive satellite, dial-up, and some DSL connections. They also had difficulty obtaining reliable telephone service and big incumbent providers with a presence in the Leverett had no intention of upgrading the infrastructure. When they did the math, it was cost effective to invest in publicly owned FTTH infrastructure for Internet access and phone service. Leverett’s network is faster, more reliable, and more affordable.
Educating Lyndon Township Folks
In order to share information about the plan before the vote, the community held a townhall meeting on June 21st and will hold another meeting on July 20th at the Township Hall at 7 p.m.