How this Michigan county is developing a plan for better broadband

Leelanau County, Michigan – Over the past two years, Leelanau County, a small rural community in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula, has been in dire need of better broadband (high-speed Internet) access for its residents. Like many other communities across the country, the issue of connection is at the top of its list of needed improvements.

A recent study by BroadbandNow revealed that 42 million Americans do not have access to broadband. And in a study by the FCC, researchers found that 9.54% of rural residents lack access to 25/3 (25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload) broadband service.

So why is this important to those who live in Leelanau County? Because many groups in this community are directly affected by lagging internet connections. The pandemic has brought to light the impact of low internet speeds on those who go to school, live in rural areas and on tribal lands, run small businesses and farms, and on the elderly living in isolation.

“Today, internet service is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said Leelanau County Commissioner and Chairman Ty Wessell. “Without this capability, our schools struggle with higher education programs, businesses can no longer stay competitive, and our residents struggle to stay connected and communicate with their doctors.”

According to the Leelanau Internet Futures Team (LIFT), approximately 22% of the county does not have access to cable or fiber, and residents have little or no access to other high-speed broadband services.

In order to bring about a significant change in broadband connection/speed, the Leelanau Peninsula Economic Foundation (LPEF) has created the LIFT committee, composed of private and public actors. The committee was charged with developing an action plan to bring high-speed Internet to the entire county.

Development of a connection plan

In May 2021, the LIFT Committee, the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners (BOC), and the nonprofit Connected Nation Michigan (CN Michigan) engaged in a countywide broadband investigation. , the objective of which was to develop a formal action plan to improve broadband access.

Once the surveys were completed and the results presented in September 2021, the LIFT committee assembled a team of organizations to carry out this high-speed broadband plan. To ensure the satisfaction and success of its residents, LIFT has partnered with Point Broadband and Cherryland Electric Cooperatives.

“This plan has demonstrated an outstanding example of private and public partnership,” said President, LPEF Board Member Patricia Soutas-Little. “This group of organizations have come together to help residents benefit from all of their different levels of expertise.”

A roadmap for better access

The broadband plan for broadband has been broken down into a list of goals, including:

  • Achieve 35 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload rates, bringing 35/5 to all unserved parcels by December 31, 2022.
  • Explore the possibilities of working with the Grand Traverse Band of Chippewa and the Ottawa Indians to use their backbone.
  • Explore new tower locations and challenge existing and new wireless service providers to improve internet coverage, while improving enhanced 911 emergency service coverage.
  • Provide layered maps online to allow the public to examine unserved areas and overlay existing and new broadband services that are or will be available in their area.
  • Recognize emerging broadband speed goals (100/100) for future funding to strive to position the county to achieve 100% of these goals by 2026.

The proposed plan represents a total investment of $17.4 million – with Point Broadband providing $12.4 million and $5 million committed by the county, which includes funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

With the funds now allocated, Point Broadband, with the help of Cherryland Electric Cooperative, can begin rolling out fiber throughout the county, including its most unserved/underserved areas.

As a collaborator on the project, CN Michigan helped the LIFT committee and its partners realize this plan by facilitating meetings with Internet service providers, state and federal agencies, government, and elected officials, as well as surveying businesses, celebrities, residents, educators, health care providers and other organizations to identify broadband needs.

The impact of connectivity

With a plan in place, Leelanau County officials are focused on long-term benefits for its residents. With better broadband speeds across the county, businesses and individuals can not only thrive today, but drive future development.

“It’s all about connectivity. Without internet access, the world will pass you by and leave you in the dust,” said Frank Siepker, director of engineering and operations for Cherryland. “You need connectivity for education, healthcare, security, remote work, e-commerce, connecting with friends and family, entertainment, fake news of your choice, weather and everything that’s going on in the world.”

With better broadband, students won’t have to do their homework on school Wi-Fi, businesses can adapt to the latest technologies and grow at a faster pace, services Emergency services can enhance their 911 functions and rural residents can contact their primary care physicians from the comfort of their own homes.

“We started to see growth before the pandemic, but we lost a lot once it hit. It just can’t happen again,” County Commissioner Wessell said. “People wanted to work from home, but that wasn’t an option for part-time or full-time residents. It is now one of our priorities. »

Ultimately, by putting a plan into action, residents of this beautiful northern community will finally get the connection they deserve.

About the Author: Lily McCoy is Connected Nation’s Social Media and Communications Specialist. Lily provides support to the communications department through social media outreach and writing. She also adds a source of creativity to the team with a background in personal relations and marketing. Lily holds a bachelor’s degree in business and organizational communications from Western Kentucky University.

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