Following the successful completion of a feasibility study for a township-wide fiber optic network, Lyndon Township is moving forward to seek community input on the project.
What We Learned from the Feasibility Study
- The feasibility study showed the long term viability of the project, contingent upon a millage to fund startup costs
- The study also revealed a number of areas that will require additional research and key decision points that require community input before a final millage amount can be requested
Status of the Millage Proposal
Based upon the outcomes noted above, the evaluation committee has recommended that the millage issue be deferred from the original target of the August 2nd election.
The Michigan Broadband Cooperative, a grass-roots community group, will host a town hall meeting on June 13th at 7pm, at the Washington Street Education Center auditorium to seek community input.
Lyndon Township, like many townships in Western Washtenaw County, is significantly underserved in regard to broadband internet access. This can come as a surprise to residents from other areas that are well served by broadband – given how important broadband is for participation in modern society. It is hard to understand how significant parts of the region can be without it.
Yet Lyndon Township is not an outlier when it comes to broadband challenges – more than 8,500 households in Western Washtenaw County do not have access to broadband service. Maribeth Hammer, a Lyndon Township resident, described the situation: “We live in Washtenaw County, within twenty miles of the University of Michigan, seven miles from downtown Chelsea and cannot get a high-speed internet connection. Our out-of-town guests and our returning-home college students are amazed that they cannot complete many ordinary Internet related tasks. My husband has to drive to the Chelsea District Library to complete many of his work requirements as well as my children with their college and job-hunting connection needs.”
Lyndon Township and the surrounding areas are lacking broadband coverage from existing cable and DSL providers, due to population densities that are too low to support the return on investment rates that these companies require. These providers have indicated that they have no plans to expand coverage into the unserved areas of Western Washtenaw County.
Michigan Broadband Co-op
In response, residents without adequate/affordable broadband service have come together and formed a non-profit organization called the Michigan Broadband Cooperative to build and operate community-controlled broadband infrastructure. This cooperative will work with municipalities to build a high-speed fiber optic to the home network that can provide next-generation broadband access to all residents. This initiative will operate as an open access network, over which private internet service providers can compete to provide service on a level playing field.
It is part of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative’s mission to demonstrate the viability of providing equal access to high speed broadband services and create equal opportunity to students, workers, and businesses irrespective of where they choose to locate. Further, the Michigan Broadband Cooperative seeks to develop a model that can be scaled for other communities and ultimately to light up all unserved areas of Michigan with high speed broadband access that will wipe out the homework gap for students of all ages and catalyze economic expansion.
The recently completed feasibility study paid for by Lyndon Township provides in-depth information regarding the estimated costs and revenues associated with building a fiber-to-the-home network in Lyndon Township, and shows the long term viability of such a project. The evaluation committee identified a number of decision points affecting the financial model that require input from the community. “We felt that we were getting into areas where we would be making sweeping decisions that would affect our neighbors – so we decided that we shouldn’t rush into things, and instead take the time to have conversations and do the research to get it right,” said Gary Munce, long time Lyndon Township resident and a Director of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative. The Cooperative is taking this next step in facilitating a community dialogue by hosting a town hall meeting on June 13th at 7pm at the Washington Education Center auditorium.
Others Have Gone Before Us
This Lyndon Township effort follows similar successful municipal and grass roots broadband efforts from around the country, including a recently completed fiber-to-the-home project in Sebewaing, Michigan – the state’s first “Gigabit Village”. Each Sebewaing household now has access to connection speeds of up to one gigabit per second, as well as standard broadband speeds that are more affordable and reliable than comparable cable broadband offerings.
While Lyndon Township is the first in Washtenaw County to take action toward improving their own broadband situation, Dexter and Webster Townships are also moving ahead with feasibility studies for fiber optic networks. Ben Fineman, President of the Michigan Broadband Cooperative, says: “Broadband has become an essential service, and it’s unacceptable for so many households in our area to lack access. Our communities are filled with people who are more than willing to step up and help to build broadband, but none of us can do it on our own. We formed this cooperative as a way for community members to work together and take action to solve the problem ourselves – no one else is going to do it for us. We’re encouraging anyone without broadband who wants to get involved to contact us and see how you can help.”