Expanding broadband into sparsely populated areas often produces low or zero return on investment for the private sector due to significantly higher deployment costs, lengthier middle-mile networks, or challenging terrain. Partnerships can bridge this gap by bringing multiple assets together to successfully expand broadband access and adoption. A partnership between entities of all types, public, private, and non-profit, can address economic challenges by sharing capital costs and enhancing revenue potential (e.g., finding anchor tenants, aggregating community and regional demand, and removing regulatory barriers to expedite deployment).
Partnerships for expanding broadband access into more “high cost” areas can include organizations such as private broadband providers, local governments, public entities (schools, libraries, co-ops, etc.), and other private businesses and investors. At minimum, communities that are considering broadband initiatives should get to know and develop good working relationships with their local broadband providers and other nearby providers who might consider bringing their services to the local area.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Guide to Effective Public-Private Partnerships: https://broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov/sites/default/files/resource-files/ntia_ppp_052417.pdf.
A list of broadband providers by county in Michigan can be found here: https://connectednation.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2018/07/MI_BB-Providers-by-County.pdf.
Clare County, Michigan
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Clare County was at one time the second-most economically distressed community in Michigan and was one of the most disconnected. Community leaders and internet service providers (ISP) realized that to jumpstart their economy they needed to increase the access to broadband to all of its residents and businesses. Pulling together local resources, the community developed partnerships with ISPs to expand service into its rural areas. The schools, city, libraries, and several townships worked to construct communication towers on township-owned land and lease space on those towers to a local ISP. Through this partnership, the ISP was able to expand service into remote areas of the county. More than 260 homes in rural Clare County were connected by the ISP. Building on this early success, today those same community leaders have partnered with another local ISP to bring fiber to homes in the cities of Clare, Harrison and Farwell.
Mason County, Michigan
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A Pew Research Center study examining the future of libraries showed that 85% of Americans strongly believe that schools and libraries should work more closely together and many libraries are rising to the need. As schools implement one-to-one computing programs, the devices require content such as e-books, audiobooks, and video footage to be effective. Most libraries already have this content available and some are tailoring their online environments to assist schools. The school district in Ludington, Michigan, provides iPads for all students, from kindergarten through 12th grade. While the school supplies textbooks, lectures, and classwork on the iPad, local library programs are helping students get the most out of their device.
The Mason County District Library (MCDL), serving Ludington and the county, uses the applications Overdrive and Tumblebooks to supply e-books and other digital content to their users. MCDL staff members have helped students add and learn to use these apps on their iPads, while using the library’s existing subscription. Together, these applications offer over a million e-books and even more extra digital content, giving Ludington students access to a wealth of knowledge, without demanding a larger budget. “It makes financial sense because it prevents the schools from having to set up parallel services,” said Eric Smith, Director of MCDL. “It’s significant cost savings for the local community and taxpayers.”