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Building Broadband Above Obstacles in Rural Michigan

Ogemaw County has made it easier for ISPs to extend broadband coverage in the area by going upward. A newly completed vertical assets inventory includes barns, poles, towers, water towers, silos, and other tall structures across 14 townships in Ogemaw County. With this information, ISPs can install broadband infrastructure on tall structures in the area and significantly reduce the investment required.

The Ogemaw County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) partnered with Michigan Works! Region 7B Consortium, the Ogemaw County Technology Planning Team, and the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments (NEMCOG) to complete the vertical assets inventory and area map.

The work began in October 2014, and creating an inventory was a massive undertaking spread over some of the widest and most sparsely populated areas of the state. The survey included a mailing campaign to call on individual residents and assess the heights of various structures across the area. A grant provided by NEMCOG gave the Ogemaw County EDC access to the technology needed to map the assets once the survey was complete.

“When we have tried to recruit a new Internet Service Provider (ISP) or get existing companies to expand, we usually get asked about existing structures that are available to install equipment on, because it will significantly reduce expenses and improve their return on investment,” said Mandi Chasey, Director of Business and Economic Services for Ogemaw County at Michigan Works! in a press release.

Broadband infrastructure that delivers wireless Internet must be installed at points higher than trees and other obstructions, or the signal will be blocked. Construction of radio towers generally falls on ISPs, which requires a certain return on investment (ROI) to make a business case for development.

“When the people are spread out as much as we are in Ogemaw County, it can be very expensive to bring service to a small number of people, so it is difficult to convince the companies to do build-outs here,” Chasey explained.

Reliable Internet service and coverage has become a must-have for almost every business and most tourists and residents. While the natural, untouched landscape offers a remote getaway and a haven for many, the detachment from communication creates an obstacle for living or doing business in the area long-term. By leveraging existing vertical assets new towers will not disturb the natural landscape, and excessive investment will not be required to expand coverage.

“This will be a huge step in the right direction,” Chasey said. “Broadband has been our number one priority, since any business considering locating in Ogemaw County will want to know there is reliable internet available, so we are very excited. This is something that will benefit everyone in the county.”

See other stories on our blog to learn more about the challenges remote areas face when expanding broadband coverage, and learn about the many creative ways that governments, businesses, and residents are meeting these challenges.