Though residents in a sparsely populated area may express interest in faster speeds or more affordable access, hundreds of homes spread over thousands of miles in rural areas present a problem for ISPs—too much space between too few people. ISPs cannot justify the investment with such a limited return. A non-profit group driven by citizens of rural Washtenaw County and Jackson County in Michigan are working to change this model and bring the power of broadband infrastructure back to the citizens.
Pure Broadband is a grassroots, nonprofit organization working to expand broadband access and options in Washtenaw and Jackson Counties by focusing the needs and voices of residents. With the ultimate goal of installing a fiber network in the area, the current objectives are garnering residents’ support, expanding coverage and gathering data, and making a plan for the further development of the network.
Residents in the counties began by collaborating with Connect Michigan and state representatives to gauge interest, collect data, and communicate with ISPs.
“We conducted surveys with Connect Michigan and the net result was that 92% of households in our area want more choices for our Internet service providers,” said Ben Fineman, President of Pure Broadband. Though many residents in metropolitan areas like the cities of Jackson and Ann Arbor have multiple options, coverage drops off significantly in less densely populated areas. Residents may have access to DSL, cellular networks, or satellite networks; however, these services either provide speeds that don’t support modern applications like video chatting or streaming or they instill data limits that make costs impractical.
Pure Broadband has collected testimonials from residents showing how the lack of options has affected their lives. With more students gaining access to take-home laptops and tablets through their schools, many are finding their educational experience limited by slow or costly broadband service. Others cannot access work emails or files, use online tools to find jobs, communicate with friends, or even search for information.
“We came to the conclusion that commercial carriers and the incumbent ISPs were not going to solve our problem. If we, the residents, wanted to have broadband, we needed to take matters in to our own hands,” said Fineman.
Pure Broadband will not act as an ISP. With a fiber network installed in the area, the people would control access. “We would open up the fiber network using an open access network model to any ISP,” Fineman explained. “It is not the case where we’re looking to compete with or edge out existing carriers. We’re looking to make the investment and provide fundamental infrastructure to create a level playing for all the ISPs.”
Pure Broadband is currently accepting resident testimonials, building membership, and exploring avenues to expand broadband infrastructure. Learn more about www.purebroadband.org and learn about grassroots organizations building broadband near you through www.connectmycommunity.org.
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