Countywide Internet access is no longer up in the air for Washtenaw County, Michigan residents. On September 15th, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved up to $15.5 million in funding to support the County Broadband Task Force’s efforts to achieve countywide broadband equity.
Washtenaw County (pop. 372,000) has long struggled with bringing broadband to its residents because incumbent providers wouldn’t invest in its more rural communities. However, with this new investment from the county and the recent wins by Mercury Broadband (a Kansas-based ISP, focused on connecting rural America) and Midwest Energy and Communications (MEC, a Michigan electric cooperative) from the 2020 Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, the county promises the remaining gaps in broadband will be closed.
“This is a huge win for every resident of Washtenaw County,” Barbara Fuller, Chair of the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force said in a press release. “The Board of Commissioners tasked us with achieving countywide broadband equity more than 5 years ago, and here we are.”
The next step for the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force is to work with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to develop a plan moving forward. In our previous coverage, we highlighted how the task force was starting negotiations with four different ISPs: MEC, Washtenaw Fiber, Comcast, and Charter-Spectrum. The press release announcing the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners vote did not mention which ISPs the task force will move forward with, if not all four. Construction start and completion dates are still being determined. Nevertheless, this is a huge step forward for the county.
“Allocating $15.5 million to expand broadband infrastructure and address Internet affordability, literacy, and access was a big ask,” Shannon Beeman, County Commissioner for District 3 said in a press release. “We had some difficult conversations but maintained open lines of communication, which got us to where we are today. There’s still a lot of work to do, but getting this far is a huge accomplishment. It’s a great feeling to know how many lives are going to be positively impacted.”
Read more about Washtenaw County’s journey to better broadband here.
Listen to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast with folks in Washtenaw County working to build municipal broadband infrastructure.