Michigan County Progresses on High-Speed Internet Plans

Michigan County Progresses on High-Speed Internet Plans

(TNS) — The Midland County Internet Connectivity Committee is making progress towards providing high-speed internet access for all households through a series of government grant programs, and reminds residents of what they can do to help.

Committee member Scott Noesen listed five programs that could aid Midland County in expanding its internet access:

—Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF)

—Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Network (ROBIN)

—Broad Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD)

—Digital Equity Act (DEA)

—Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)

“There’s plenty of money to get everyone connected nationwide,” Noesen said. “We just can’t have kids going to McDonald’s to do their homework.”

The BEAD program, established by the Biden administration in 2021, will utilize $42.5 billion to provide all Americans with access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet by 2030.

The state allocations in the program were announced by President Biden on Monday. Michigan received the fourth largest allocation with more than $1.5 billion, of which several million dollars will likely go to Midland County.

Grants are given to Internet Service Providers to complete various projects. The Internet Connectivity Committee works to form partnerships with ISPs that are willing to do projects in Midland County.

RDOF began in 2020 with a reverse auction in which ISPs could choose areas where they were willing to work. Most of the RDOF projects in Midland County will be done by Mercury Broadband.

Mercury Broadband agreed to install and supply internet to 24 locations within Midland County throughout the various townships, but likely won’t begin work in the area for another nine to 12 months.

ROBIN, a state government program, allocated $238 million among 11 ISPs and 24 projects that were selected after the submission of applications and a public comment period. Two of the 24 projects include Midland County.

The purpose of ROBIN is to provide funds to ISPs and public-private partnerships for the expansion of broadband infrastructure to unserved areas.

In addition to helping secure these grants, the Midland County committee is working on other projects. Its first project was installing antennas at the North Midland Family Center in Mills Township to expand internet access throughout the building and in the parking lot. Noesen said the committee would like to do the same thing at all the township halls in the county.

Affordable internet programs

Even if internet service is made available in certain areas, not everyone can afford it, Noesen said. A number of programs serve to make internet service affordable for all households, including ACP and DEA.

Residents can apply to the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households. Household eligibility can be determined by a number of programs including Pell grants, SNAP, veteran pensions, federal housing assistance and more.

The Digital Equity Act established three grant programs providing $2.75 billion towards affordable internet. State governments and other entities can apply for these grants.

What residents can do

As residents wait for internet access to come to their area, there are a few things they can do to help the process.

Noesen encourages residents to download the Federal Communications Commission speed test app and test internet speeds everywhere they go. This provides valuable feedback to the federal agency.

“Use those apps wherever you go,” Noesen said. “The more places the FCC gets on their map where there’s little or no coverage, the much better chance we have of getting grants.”

Establishing internet access for all households in Midland County will take many years to complete, Noesen said. Those who want internet access immediately can research satellite internet providers. While they tend to be more expensive, it is a quick way to gain internet access until projects like RDOF are complete.

© 2023 the Midland Daily News (Midland, Mich.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.