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Township Wide High Speed Fiber Internet Initiative In Beginning Stages

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One might think that high-speed Internet access is the birthright of 21st-century America.  While cities and suburbs take it for granted there is a dearth of services in rural locations, even in Grass Lake.

On a cold Thursday evening late last month, members of the Grass Lake Community met for the first time to discuss options for bringing high speed reliable fiber Internet service to residents. The meeting was hosted by volunteer and Grass Lake resident Chris Little along with Ben Fineman, Lyndon resident, volunteer and President of Michigan Broadband Cooperative. The goal of this initiative is to bring fiber-optic Internet to every home in Grass Lake Charter Township said Little, following the footsteps of other area communities that are doing this through a grass roots effort.

“I believe that people should have fast, reliable Internet,” says Little, a self-proclaimed cord cutter who works in the Information and Technology Department at Consumers Energy for four years.

During his presentation on Thursday, he pointed out that “he is not promoting a specific company.” Michigan Broadband Cooperative is one option that other area Townships are utilizing. According to MBC, “Many rural community residents have serious issues gaining access to broadband. The Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) and the Western Washtenaw Broadband Initiative have discussed this issue with many service providers. All the service providers provide the same feedback. Building infrastructure in our rural communities is too expensive. There is not enough population density to generate a return on invest in a 3-5 year timeline.

More and more frequently rural communities are looking to their municipalities to help build infrastructure. While private enterprise does a good job of providing broadband where profitable, it leaves the vital needs of rural communities unmet. Municipalities have a long history of building and maintaining critical infrastructure such as telephone and electrical systems. Broadband is another utility that municipalities can provide their residents. We should not require residents to beg big corporations when they have the power to take matters into their own hands.

MBC is a grass roots, non-profit organization driven by the citizens of rural Washtenaw and Jackson counties. MBC’s ultimate goal is to provide an abundance of bandwidth on reliable networks for a reasonable price, and to deliver gigabit service over fiber optic cables to every home in our community. MBC was formed to focus community support, aggregate funding, and build physical, open access broadband infrastructure.”

Throughout the past few decades, the term “high-speed Internet” has had many definitions. Also known as broadband, high-speed Internet is offered in four different forms: DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), Satellite Internet, Cable Internet and Fiber-optic Internet. Dial-up is the only Internet service available that is not considered “high speed.”. In today’s technologically advanced world, fiber-optic Internet is considered the fastest form of Internet available.

Fiber-optic Internet could bring speeds of up to 1Gb to homes. Many residents do not have access to high speed, reliable Internet. WOW provides cable to some areas of the township while others are left to cell towers, dial up and less reliable providers.

Fiber-optic Internet transmits data through pulses of light – allowing it to move greater amounts of data farther distances in less time, compared to copper. And because the fiber is brought to your home, you don’t share your connection with neighbors so your speed won’t be comprised.

Until a few years ago, cable was considered the fastest Internet. The greatest problem with cable is speeds are inconsistent. Residents log on during peak Internet hours – when most homes are online streaming content, uploading photos, etc. – and experience slower speeds. The reason for the slowdown is that cable subscribers share a connection with hundreds of neighbors, so speeds are compromised.

Internet users are using more bandwidth than ever before – for video chatting, streaming movies and TV shows, online gaming and more. In just years from now, copper cables won’t be able to support this heavy use.

Grass Lake is not alone when it comes to a thirst to have a steady Internet connection. “We have a bond proposal in May. Our broadband is nonexistent, says Sharon Township Supervisor Peter Psarouthakis in a recent telephone interview.  “We have tried to get some kind of wireless but it’s very slow.  The library is a heartbreak for the kids for their homework.  The bond proposal if voted for will lay fiber-optic cable.

“We talk to companies but they won’t operate in our area,” Psarouthakis continues.

In August Lydon Township residents approved a bond proposal to fund construction of a community owned fiber optic broadband network intended to serve every home and business in Lydon Township.  The vote passed with 622 for and 321 votes against the measure.

Earlier this year new legislation was introduced to assist rural communities in need of reliable Internet access.  House Bill 4162 was proposed to add construction, improvement, and maintenance of communications infrastructure for townships that need special assistance to assuage the cost of gaining widespread Internet service.

It appears that the issue cuts across Jackson and Washtenaw counties in addition to other parts of the state.  Civic leaders are being proactive in their efforts to modernize the communities they serve.  “While I have been working with Michigan Coop for the past four years, the effort in Waterloo Township is just ramping up,” says planning commissioner Rose LaForest.  “Back in 2016 a survey was conducted to assess Waterloo’s need for better broadband.  Given the results of the survey and the success of Lydon Township, I am sure the residents of Waterloo will be open to taking a similar path.”

Residents attending Thursday’s meeting were eager to learn more information, especially in light of current net neutrality changes. Little said that part of the process can be requiring net neutrality during the process, ensuring that whatever provider is selected to partner with the Township would be required to maintain net neutrality.

High speed Internet affects more than just one’s ability to stream videos and surf the web. Grass Lake Community Schools issues iPads to students in kindergarten and first grade and Chromebooks for every child in grades 2-12. Dr. Ryle Kiser, Superintendent of Grass Lake Community Schools was quoted as saying “On behalf of the students who attend Grass Lake Community Schools, I would like to offer my support of the need for an upgrade in the available Internet within Grass Lake Charter Township. School districts across the state have come to the realization that technology is the wave of the future and our students need to be prepared. The school district would emphasize the need for fast Internet service not only for every home in this district, but in every area in the state where school age children and their families live.”

Home values are affected by access to high speed Internet. Homes with a fiber-optic connection have an average 7.1% value increase over homes without high speed Internet and a 3.1% increase over non-fiber Internet connections, such as cable according to a 2015 nationwide study by the University of Colorado at Boulder and Carnegie Mellon University.

In his presentation, Little outlined the 5 steps needed: 1) Assess Community Need and Support 2) Conduct a Feasibility Study 3) Obtain Funding 4) Build Fiber Network 5) Operate Fiber Optic Network

Funding in Lyndon Townshipsoccurred through a combination of a township wide millage and an additional monthly usage fee for those subscribing to the Internet service. Sharon Townships fiber-optic costs were estimated to be $4.9 million, resulting in a 3.3 millage rate over 20 years to pay for the infrastructure and start-up costs. The costs included running fiber-optic to the house for every township home. An additional $35  per month would be charged to residents that subscribed to the Internet service.

There will be another public presentation along with a question and answer session on January 25th at the Grass Lake Charter Township Hall at 6 pm. More info can be found online at www.mbcoop.org.






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