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Michigan Farm News | By Paul W. Jackson | Read the full article

November 18, 2016

While waiting for your information to download, you may think your greatest need is faster internet service.

Eric Frederick of Connect Michigan thinks you’re right, but he has a more immediate concern: He needs people who make decisions to understand that broadband access in rural areas is, to put it politely, poor.

He understands, of course, why it is so poor. It’s a business decision.

“In rural areas, when household density drops off, it just doesn’t make business sense to put broadband infrastructure in the ground,” he said. “There’s very little return on investment for a private sector company.”

That’s why Frederick and his non-profit company want to spur increased public-private partnerships. While that’s happening, don’t expect ultra-fast internet service on your farm anytime soon.

“There is a lot of federal money coming in to subsidize expansion; $363 million in six years, of which there are five years left,” he said. “The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Connect America Fund will give Frontier, AT&T and Century Link money to build infrastructure to 180,000 households.”

Unfortunately, Frederick said, recipients of the subsidy are required to offer only 10 megabytes per second, and by the time that’s in place, more densely populated places will have 25 megabytes per second, or faster, service.

But there still is good news. Frederick said AT&T will likely try to use wireless technology to meet their commitments.

“Satellite is a good service if you have no other options, but it’s not the most reliable,” he said. “If satellite internet worked just like a fixed, terrestrial connection, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

As for Frontier’s offerings, it will use $130 million over the next five years to serve 68,000 households, Frederick said. But when it comes to working with local rural governments, he said it’s sometimes best to work with Connect Michigan.

“It’s important to understand that there is no entity in Michigan tasked with looking at broadband in rural areas but us,” he said. “We’re a third-party neutral non-profit advocating for better access, adoption, and use of technology.”

So far, Connect Michigan’s role has been to make people aware that there are advantageous economic activities to be found in rural areas, if only there was adequate broadband internet service.

Read the full article