Tag: "michigan"

Posted May 5, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Along the shores of Lake Huron and across three rural counties in Michigan’s Thumb region, an electric cooperative is putting its thumb on the scale in favor of bringing fiber-to-the-home Internet service to its members.

Nearly 85 years after first delivering electricity to the region, Thumb Electric Cooperative (TEC) General Manager Dallas Braun announced the co-op had “started to lay the groundwork for a similar mission.”

“The mission,” he wrote in a recent edition of Michigan Country Lines, “is to provide much-needed fiber Internet service to those same sparsely populated areas by building a projected $80 million fiber network infrastructure that will be the superhighway of the Internet for future generations.”

The mandate came from members who saw ubiquitous access to high-speed Internet connectivity as a necessity of modern life much like the region’s rural farmers in the 1930s pined for electricity as they saw city residents enjoy a higher standard of electrified living.

It led to the creation of TEC Fiber – a new subsidiary of the TEC which currently serves 12,300 residents and businesses in Huron, Sanilac, and Tuscola Counties.

Foray into Broadband with an Air Advantage

The planned project, which is expected to be completed over the next five years, will deploy 1,500 miles of aerial fiber attached to TEC’s existing electric poles. That will be connected to another 600 miles of underground fiber, which will allow the co-op to extend service beyond its current footprint thanks to its recent purchase of Air Advantage, a Thumb-area Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Not only does the purchase of Air Advantage allow TEC to integrate and expand the local ISPs existing fiber and wireless network, it also means the co-op will acquire all 30 of Air Advantage’s experienced workforce.

“This is an exciting time for TEC...

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Posted April 6, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

With an unprecedented amount of federal funds to build broadband networks flowing into individual states, lawmakers in some states are doing the bidding of the big monopoly Internet Service Providers and potentially blowing a once-in-a-generation chance to invest in the locally-accountable infrastructure that offers the best chance to bridge the broadband gap for millions of families once and for all.  

Two weeks ago we wrote about the anti-competition broadband legislation making its way through the State Legislatures in Illinois and New York as state lawmakers across the nation establish high-speed Internet grant programs.

That trend looks like it’s continuing in Michigan where Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature recently reached a deal to pass a nearly $5 billion spending bill.

While the “Building Michigan Together Plan” is being “celebrated” by the governor’s office as a way to “grow the economy, create jobs, and benefit families in every region of the state,” the main supplemental spending bill, known as Senate Bill 565 (SB 565), may sink some hope community broadband advocates have for leveraging the windfall of federal funds the Great Lakes State is getting from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the forthcoming funds in the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA).

Protecting Incumbents from Competition

The legislation allocates nearly $251 million for a statewide broadband grant program to be overseen by the newly created Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI), a subdivision of the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). But, buried in Section 359 of the bill, paragraph (3), it stipulates that Michigan's “infrastructure grants must only be allocated...

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Posted October 15, 2021 by Maren Machles

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...

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Posted October 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Need better Internet access in your community but don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re in the middle of a community broadband project but have hit a roadblock?

Be one of 100 broadband champions attending the Michigan Moonshot Broadband Summit at the one-day event on Tuesday, November 9th in Traverse City, Michigan. 

The Michigan Moonshot Summit is a day-long conference focused on helping representatives of local governments, community anchor institutions, and economic development groups navigate the hurdles involved when pursuing a regional or community broadband project. The event will include workshopping opportunities where attendees can collaborate with industry thought leaders to address impending issues and identify solutions.

Merit, a statewide educational and research network run by Michigan’s public university system, is hosting the event. Michigan Moonshot is Merit’s effort to improve Internet access in the state by collecting accurate data, disseminating educational resources, influencing policy decisions, and connecting communities to funding.

“From determining ownership models and drafting network designs, to navigating the grant landscape, developing public-private partnerships, and deploying mapping initiatives, this year’s focus is singular — ACTION,” reads the Moonshot Summit website.

To attend this year’s event, “attendees must be a Merit Member and/or Broadband champions who are part of regional planning, building, and running efforts; economic development groups and local governments; or, institutions, community anchors and municipalities addressing the ‘digital divide.’”

Breakout Sessions and Speakers

The first breakout session of the Moonshot Summit will assist municipalities in “Navigating the METRO Act.” 

Aspen Wireless Founder and President, Jim Selby, and Municipal FTTP Program Manager, Mike Reen, will walk communities through METRO Act requirements to provide an understanding of the mandatory steps communities are required to complete before constructing their own broadband...

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Posted September 2, 2021 by Maren Machles

As communities across the country are working to bring more affordable, reliable Internet access to their residents, one county in Michigan is gearing up to reach every household within its bounds. On Wednesday night, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners held a Ways and Means meeting and unanimously approved a resolution obligating state funding, including American Rescue Plan funds, to several initiatives, with $14.6 million dollars being allocated to broadband infrastructure. 

Although some communities in the county have made progress in recent years in improving connectivity, thousands of households have been left with broadband at basic speeds. While many are slated to receive service via 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, there are still 17 townships scattered across the county with more than 3,000 households that remained unserved. 

Back in May, the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to plug the remaining holes, with the Task Force signalling its general happiness with the responses in the recent meeting. The allocation on Wednesday, if it receives final approval in the near future, will be used to fund the project proposals the Broadband Task Force is currently negotiating with four ISPs: Midwest Energy and Communications, Washtenaw Fiber, Comcast and Charter-Spectrum. 

This vote brings the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force one step closer to its goal of countywide broadband equity. Its $14.6 million dollar plan will either be approved or vetoed by the County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 15. 

The Journey to Countywide Broadband Equity

The Washtenaw County Broadband Subcommittee was formed in 2017 to assess the county’s broadband coverage and make recommendations about how to achieve “countywide broadband equity” by 2022. 

The Subcommittee came out with...

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Posted August 23, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

The Michigan State University-based Comprehensive Economic Recovery Initiative's (CERI) Building Broadband Better project is hosting a webinar this Thursday, August 26th, at 12pm ET.

The undertaking, which works towards connectivity solutions in support of "identifying and prioritizing unserved and underserved areas; funding, designing, building and operating networks to serve these areas and; ensuring that network access is affordable and that the devices and skills needed to benefit from that access are accessible to all" works with "partners throughout and beyond the state to help develop and implement strategies that move Michigan closer to the goal of providing universal access to pandemic- and future-ready 21st Century Communications Infrastructure, and the benefits it can support."

The webinar will provide a project update in the context of the anticipated federal funding for initiatives all over the country, and include experts who will speak to the advantages of separating the infrastructure and service delivery layer on broadband networks. From the registration page:

 

This webinar will examine a promising approach to Building Broadband Better: Community Empowerment Networks that utilize Automated Open Access (AOA) technology. As you will learn, these networks provide unique benefits, including reduced cost of operation; increased competition and innovation among ISPs; lower prices, increased choice, security and ease of use for customers and; an open platform for innovation and value creation by community service providers (CSPs), including organizations operating in the healthcare, education, public safety, government, public utility and nonprofit sectors.

Bruce Patterson (who recently joined EntryPoint Networks as Solution Services Director after 15 years as the city of Ammon's Technology Director), Jeff Christensen (President), and Mitch Shapiro will be the featured speakers.

Register for the webinar here.

Posted August 5, 2021 by Maren Machles

Washtenaw County (pop. 367,600), home of B-24 bomber, a once booming automotive industry and the University of Michigan, is making strides toward bringing the region back into an economic powerhouse, running 20 miles of fiber from downtown Ann Arbor through Ypsilanti Township, connecting the business and commercial corridors of four different townships ultimately ending at the American Center for Mobility.  

Ann Arbor SPARK, a non-profit economic development organization, received $2.4 million in federal funding from the CARES Act in July to start the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Corridor Fiber Optic Backbone project. Ann Arbor Spark contributed $200,000 to the $600,000 local match requirement needed to obtain the funds, while Washtenaw County contributed $112,000, the City of Ann Arbor contributed $138,000, and  Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Local Development Finance Authority contributed $150,000. 

Shaking off the Rust

Ypsilanti, Michigan (pop. 20,800) led the country in cutting edge automotive manufacturing for decades. Just 5 miles east of Ypsilanti, lay the Willow Run manufacturing complex and airport where Henry Ford produced B-24 heavy bombers for World War II, spurring a flood of workers in the region and ultimately leading to a housing shortage. The influx overwhelmed the market, forcing the Federal Public Housing Administration to step in and build dormitories for the workers. When the war ended, automotive manufacturers shuffled in and out of the complex, continuing to create jobs.

The area's economic boom started to peak in the 1970s with many manufacturing jobs moving overseas. While there are still manufacturing, service, and academic jobs available, like many other communities located in the controversially named “rust belt,” the economic vitality of the region has struggled to see a comeback. 

In an effort toward revitalization, Ann Arbor SPARK is working with local partners to invest in economic opportunities in Washtenaw County. In collaboration with the University of Michigan, Michigan...

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Posted June 7, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Michigan broadband package repeals law prohibiting state grants from going to government entities

Montana Legislature duplicates federal limitations against schools and library self-constructing networks

U.S. House Republicans bill would give USDA authority over rural broadband, in place of FCC 

The State Scene 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive on Wednesday establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet (MIHI) Office, a new state office tasked with developing a strategy to make high-speed Internet more accessible to Michiganders. 

Gov. Whitmer has argued that more than $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to a lack of Internet access across the state. MIHI will be housed inside the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). Speaking of the new office, LEO Acting Director Susan Corbin said, “We need to make major investments to support digital inclusion and this office will be focused on leveraging every dollar available through the American Recovery Plan and other federal programs,” reports WILX.

Michigan lawmakers are moving to answer Corbin’s call and recently proposed a $400 million one-time allocation of incoming federal relief funds to the newly created MIHI to work toward expanding access to broadband. With the funds, LEO would be tasked with maintaining a statewide broadband grant program, the Connecting Michigan Communities Broadband Grant. 

The legislative package [pdf] would allow the state to “award grant money to a governmental entity or educational institution or an affiliate or a public/private partnership, to own, purchase, construct, operate, or maintain a communications network.” The legislation calls for prioritizing projects that will provide discounted Internet service to low-income households and projects that “demonstrate collaboration to achieve community investment and...

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Posted May 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Nebraska Senate rejects amendment supporting municipal broadband in spending plan

Michigan Governor vetoes bill granting private ISPs property tax exemptions

Montana, Iowa and Maine channel Rescue Plan funds towards new broadband grant initiatives

 

The State Scene

Nebraska

The Nebraska Senate approved a plan to spend $40 million over the next two years on expanding rural access to high-speed Internet by a unanimous vote on Tuesday, but only after an amendment to L.B. 388 that would have allowed municipalities to offer retail broadband services was rejected.

State Sen. Justin Wayne introduced the amendment, saying that “broadband should be considered a critical infrastructure need and that private telecommunications companies have not stepped up to serve the whole state,” the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

Wayne urged Nebraska Senators “to look to Nebraska's history of public power as a model, as well as to the example of other states that are allowing cities to offer broadband.” The amendment ultimately failed by a vote of 20-24. Wayne assured fellow Senators that he will reintroduce the amendment in the future. 

The bill marked the first time the Nebraska Legislature has suggested using state tax dollars to fund broadband deployment. As it was submitted to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature, the bill would annually allocate, until funds run out, $20 million in grants to projects that increase access to high-speed broadband in unserved regions of Nebraska. It would prioritize projects in regions which lack access to Internet service with speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload. Grant recipients would be required to deploy networks capable of providing service of at least 100/100 Mbps within 18 months. 

 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed H.B. 4210 on April 14, a bill which would have granted...

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Posted March 29, 2021 by Jericho Casper

 

Snapshot 

Colorado House passes bill that reduces broadband board membership and conceals mapping data

Michigan legislature approves bill granting ISPs property tax exemptions 

New Mexico and Virginia bills await governors’ action 

 

The State Scene

Tennessee

Tennessee is home to some of the most creative local solutions to bridging the digital divide. Municipal fiber networks across the state, including Chattanooga’s EPB Fiber network, Morristown’s FiberNet, and Bristol’s network, have been a boon to economic development, job creation, educational initiatives, and overall quality of life in the past decade.

The next city to potentially join the ranks of providing municipal broadband in Tennessee is Knoxville. On March 11, the Knoxville Utility Board approved a business plan to provide Internet services across its service area. 

Despite the widespread success of municipal networks across Tennessee, the state restricts what populations they can serve. Although Tennessee law allows cities and towns to offer advanced telecommunications services if they have a municipal electric utility, the networks are not permitted to offer those services to residents who live outside of the utility’s service area. Removing these restrictions would permit substantial fiber expansion to connect more residents at no cost to the state or taxpayers.

Multiple laws introduced this legislative session in Tennessee sought to overturn statutes stifling the expansion of municipal networks. As of yet, these legislative proposals have stalled in committee, had their hearings postponed until next year’s legislative session, or been withdrawn altogether. AT&T and Comcast have historically killed these bills in subcommittees and committees early in the process in order to continue limiting broadband competition in Tennessee,...

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