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Community Champions Bringing Broadband to Michigan

Local community broadband champions are working closely with Connect Michigan, residents, businesses, and Internet service providers to overcome obstacles that are blocking broadband in rural areas. Through the Connected program, Connect Michigan and partner communities are developing community Technology Action Plans to assess needs in the area and work toward Connected Certification, a designation that signals proactive efforts to expand residential and economic development via technology.

Connect Michigan now has 10 Connected Certified communities and more than 20 others currently working for certification.

Participating communities review existing data from Connect Michigan that describes the current availability of broadband service; some conduct more detailed local surveys.

Leaders in Washtenaw County began surveying their residents late in 2013. Over 2,000 surveys were returned, forming a clear picture of the county’s digital pulse; where Internet was available, unavailable, or wanted. The surveys revealed that more that 98% of unconnected residents were using libraries to fill the void.

Chelsea District Library Network Administrator Melanie Bell joined the Washtenaw broadband initiative as Community Broadband Team co-champion. Bell, with support from State Representative Gretchen Driskell, co-champion Peter Psarouthakis, Connect Michigan, and other dedicated team members, compiled the surveys. Connect Michigan translated the data into a color-coded map to aide Internet service providers entering community discussions.

“We started hearing from providers (about) what it takes to move into an area,” said Bell. “A lot of the obstacles were township ordinances and costs.”

Local lawmakers and providers worked to renegotiate more tower-friendly ordinances. Representatives from national providers and local providers, including Comcast, Charter Communications, Air Advantage, Great Lakes High Speed, and Rural Reach, have attended meetings to discuss broadband expansion, gauge viability through the map, and explore mutually beneficial solutions. Bell and the broadband team continue to garner interest and reinforce community solidarity.

“It’s about getting broadband for the whole community,” said Bell, “and improving education and the economy for everyone.”

Melanie Bell was the recipient of a 2014 Michigan Broadband Hero Award for her work to organize an active broadband team in her community. Awards were given at the 2014 Michigan Broadband Conference in Lansing on October 29th.

Community Champions in St. Clair County, Alcona County, Crawford County, Iosco County, and several others are also spearheading Technology Action Plans. Take a closer look at your community’s service regions using Connect Michigan’s broadband service maps and see future developments on Facebook and Twitter