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Transformational Moment for Broadband in Washtenaw County


Washtenaw County plans to use nearly $ 15 million of US bailout funds to fill gaps and bring digital infrastructure to every household in the county.

On September 16, the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force released a press release on the good news.

“At their meeting last night, the Washtenaw County Council of Commissioners approved funding that will bridge the digital divide across the county and achieve 100% high-speed internet access in every home. . $ 14.6 million in US bailout funds have been committed by the board of directors, which, together with recent broadband grants, will build digital infrastructure and deliver it to every residence, regardless or the address.

“This is a huge victory for every resident of Washtenaw County,” Barbara Fuller, chair of the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force, said in the press release. “The Council of Commissioners tasked us with achieving county-wide broadband equity over 5 years ago, and here we are! I am grateful for their collective leadership and willingness to recognize that access to reliable high speed internet service is a necessity, and then provide the funding to help those who would otherwise have been left behind. All residents of Washtenaw County will soon have the opportunity to learn virtually, stay in touch with family, benefit from telemedicine and tele-banking and much more. It truly is a life changing for many. “

The Sun Times News (STN) followed up with Washtenaw County Commissioner Shannon Beeman of District 3 which encompasses Bridgewater Township, Freedom Township, Lodi Township, Manchester Township, Village of Manchester, the city of Milan, the township of Saline, the town of Saline and the township of Sharon. , and the Township of York.

Beeman said the funds will help provide broadband access to every household in Washtenaw County that does not have the physical infrastructure for reliable high-speed internet. She said there was also an investment of $ 800,000 included for Internet accessibility to help residents who cannot afford Internet service.

In the press release, District 1 Commissioner and Broadband Task Force member Jason Maciejewski said, “The allocation of funds to make broadband infrastructure accessible to all residents of Washtenaw County is a moment of transformation. Telehealth services, access to education, work-from-home opportunities and the ability to complete daily tasks online will become available throughout the county. I am proud of the hard work and dedication of the Broadband Task Force and appreciate the support of all my fellow County Commissioners. Their collective determination to bridge the digital divide in our country is truly remarkable. This is local government, making a positive impact on people’s lives.

Maciejewski, who represents the towns of Dexter and Chelsea, and the townships of Scio, Lima, Dexter, Sylvan and Lyndon, told STN it would help give every resident of the county a chance to participate in a 21st century economy.

“It’s a great moment,” Maciejewski said and praised the Broadband Task Force for the important role it played in preparing and strategizing for an opportunity like this. He said they didn’t know those funds would become available, so being here now with a plan is a testament to the task force’s work.

Broadband Task Force vice-chairman and Lyndon Township resident Ben Fineman summed up the group’s sentiments, saying in the press release: “As Lyndon Township has recently completed construction of the broadband, I can attest to how much it improves the quality of life. , for everyone. I am grateful for the commitment of each of the members of the Broadband Task Force, their work to bring together the information our County Commissioners used to make this historic decision took immense commitment to find a solution. Funding digital accessibility is the right thing to do as it will provide countless opportunities for those who have been denied access for too long. ”

STN asked Beeman what exactly will be done and when.

“The laying of fiber for broadband access in almost every township in Washtenaw County,” Beeman replied in an email to STN.

She said some of the work to connect Washtenaw County has started with grants from the Rural Digital Opportunity Grant Fund (RDOF) and other funding the county has received. ARP offers are coming, and Beeman said that with them, the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force will make selections soon.

“This is a multi-year project; however, some of the offers come with an estimated completion within 12 months, and others a little longer depending on commitments and ongoing projects, ”Beeman said. “We are aware of a shortage of broadband fiber, caused by pandemic manufacturing delays, and this may also impact the schedule.”

Noting the combination of financial aid to make it happen, Beeman’s goal was to connect every household in Washtenaw County – leaving no one behind – and these ARP / County dollars allow them to connect those that would have been missed. .

Of the estimated 8,479 premises identified as unserved, Beeman said more than half will benefit from the RDOF announced late last year and that the remaining homes fall under ARP / Washtenaw County funds approved at the council meeting. of this week’s commissioners.

Ultimately, the RDOF received through the diligent efforts of the Broadband Task Force will eliminate a large chunk of those without broadband access, and these ARP / County funds will fill the remaining gaps in Washtenaw County. “Beeman said.

In his own statement in the ad, Beeman said, “Allocating $ 14.6 million of our $ 72 million US rescue fund was a big request; we had difficult conversations, but we kept lines of communication open, which has brought us to where we are today.

STN asked Beeman, so who will benefit?

“All residents of Washtenaw County will benefit from county-wide internet connectivity, whether it is physical access or affordability,” she replied. “Teachers will have the ability to teach students remotely from any corner of the county over a reliable connection. Doctors will reach patients all over Washtenaw with the secure connection required for telemedicine appointments. Seniors will feel less isolated regardless of their postal code. Businesses will be attracted to the region and entrepreneurship will develop with an appropriate Internet infrastructure.

Regarding next steps, the press release said: “In the short term, the Broadband Task Force will now engage with ISP providers to develop a build / implementation schedule that meets the requirements of the American Rescue Plan Act and update their web page as more information becomes available. available and deadlines are identified.

And in the long run, one of the Commissioners’ goals is to ensure that financial factors do not preclude high-speed internet access as well as digital literacy and educational opportunities for those who may be new to navigation. on the Internet.


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