21st Century Communications

By: John Melcher, Associate director

The Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED) works with key partners to develop and support activities that increase internet access in rural and urban low-income communities and to help build the capacity of communities to use these online platforms for civic engagement, employment, commerce, and education. A key goal is to work with partners to ensure all persons have access to the tools and technologies needed to create more connected and equitable communities that give individuals the capacity to live and work productively from their communities.

Recent federal funding for broadband deployment has created a significant opportunity to bring internet connectivity to all the people of Michigan according to Eric Frederick, Chief Connectivity Officer at the recently created state of Michigan High-Speed Internet Office. Eric, who has a long history collaborating with CCED, strives to guide the new office to fulfill its mission to: “ensure universal availability of broadband to every home, business, institution, and community; create a more digitally equitable Michigan, and; ensure 95% of households adopt a connection at home”.

A major thrust of the federal funding made available is to promote a high level of digital inclusion. The Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MI-HI) is defining digital inclusion as: “Affordable, robust broadband internet service, internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the users, access to digital literacy training, quality technical support, and applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency”.

The opportunities for Michigan communities are enormous but not guaranteed. The processes for funding and building connections are complex and evolving, making the challenges of equity and inclusion even more significant. To "ensure 95% of households adopt a connection at home” there needs to be a commitment made to build the capacity of Michigan communities to fully participate in the planning and decision-making processes related to broadband deployment and strive for universal access for all residents. An informed and capable community can ensure that nobody is left behind.

The CCED is working with regional partners to develop a proposal that can enhance the capacity of county and regional planners to assist communities in identifying places in need of broadband inclusion. Not only is there a need for enhancing surveying and mapping capacities, there is also a need for knowledge and skills necessary for local communities to successfully identify potential broadband partners and negotiate successful public-private partnerships.

The CCED is partnering with two regional planning organizations in southwest and south-central Michigan to develop a funding proposal aimed at assisting communities advocating for broadband access and inclusion. Mitch Shapiro, who has served as an REI Follow and authored several reports (which can be accessed at the following link: https://reicenter.org/projects/completed-projects/digital ) is working on behalf of CCED to help develop, with these regional partners, a proposal that will assist communities to identify areas that are underserved, or not served, by an internet service provider (ISP), and build the capacity of communities to advocate and negotiate with potential ISP partners.

A shared priority of planners and communities is to gain an understanding of the ISP eco-system and to identify potential ISP partners who might be best suited to serve areas. Basic information such as types of ISPs (wireline vs wireless, cable or fiber, etc.) business models, motivations and resources are all crucial factors for communities to consider when identifying potential partners for negotiating public-private partnerships (PPP). Identifying types of PPPs that seem to best meet the needs of communities that have no service or are underserved in terms of broadband access and inclusion is another factor that will assist in the fulfillment of the aspiration “internet for all.”

Award: MSU and Merit Network Announce MOON-LIGHT

Michigan State University in partnership with Merit Network was awarded a $10.5 million National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program Grant that will connect 17,000 Michiganders to high-speed broadband. This program, Michigan Open Optical Network – Leveraging Innovation to Get High-Speed Technology (MOON-Light), will help address critical infrastructure gaps by enabling technologically advanced, middle-mile fiber optic infrastructure across the state. It will allow interconnecting local ISPs to bring affordable, robust, high-speed broadband internet to homes and businesses in Michigan’s underserved/unserved population areas.

Unlike closed (private) infrastructure that offers services from a single service provider to residents, the MOON-Light network will provide regional connectivity through an open-access network approach. Open-access networks (OANs) are high-performance networks open to multiple providers that leverage the infrastructure to offer high-capacity broadband services to residents and businesses. Readers can learn more about these networks by following this link here.

Dr. Johannes M. Bauer, Director of the Quello Center for Media and Information Policy at Michigan State University (and a supporting faculty member of the Center for Regional Economic Innovation), is a collaborator in this proposal. Dr. Bauer commented on the MOON-Light initiative saying, “This project will be a major step towards eliminating discrepancies in broadband access across the entire state. Once investment in the middle mile is completed in 2023, commercial and non-commercial service providers will be able to close the current gap in broadband access faster and more cheaply. This will enable Michiganders to more fully participate in the economy and communities to pursue new paths of economic development and inclusion. It will provide new means to access education, health, care, and government services.”

Future Opportunities

Special attention must be given to equity and inclusion in broadband planning and development to ensure that the future benefits of broadband services are shared by all and not allowed to be isolated from segments of our communities. That future will require participation by informed community stakeholders with the capacity and skills to engage in the broadband development process and to advocate for inclusion. Training is needed for county and regional planners so they can assist communities in collecting data and helping to make the case required for inclusion. There is much to be done as the federal and state programs for broadband expansion are rolled out. The CCED continues to seek opportunities to partner with stakeholders to build more equitable, connected communities.

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