Broadband promotes economy

HOUGHTON – Like water and electrical power, high-speed access to the Internet is a fundamental infrastructure requirement for an area’s economy. The goal of the Regional Prosperity Initiative’s (RPI) Broadband Connectivity project is to determine the western U.P.’s broadband accessibility to promote economic development.

Broadband is transmission lines with a data two-way transfer speed of 200 Kbps (kilobits per second). For hospitals, libraries, universities, and other industries, broadband acts like a life-link in that without dependable, high-speed, internet access these institutions could not survive, Erik Powers, regional planner at WUPPDR, said.

For the second year, the RPI has received funding through Western U.P. Planning and Development Region (WUPPDR) for the project.

Powers said the project has involved numerous agencies throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula.

“This planning process brought people together from around the community,” Powers said. “Cheryl Fahrner (of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce) was a great help in Houghton and Keweenaw counties. We tried to get people from a variety of backgrounds: health care, education, local business owners, local government, standard citizens. (We brought) these people together, and they helped us in gathering information in their respective fields.”

RPI’s intensive survey of broadband and internet access and availability looked at several factors, he said.

“Some things that we looked at…were public computers: how many are available in a library?” Power said. “We looked at community programs, like the one here has one for example – where they bring over Tech students, and these Tech students sit down with elderly people and teach them how to do the basic stuff, like log onto Facebook, or pay their bills online. These Tech students can help them learn how to do those things – basic stuff that a lot of people know how to do, because they grew up with computers, but the older generation doesn’t know.”

The project has sought information on several levels.

“So, stuff like that we looked at, (like) what exists already and places across those fields that have room for improvement, room for stuff that you could implement,” Powers said.

In following the guidelines established by Connect Michigan, the project looked at adoption, access and use across several areas of technology, he said, such as “broadband access; broadband availability; broadband competition; middle-mile access; mobile broadband availability, which would be cell service; public computer centers; and so on.”

Three of the six western U.P. counties so far have been graded on those fields and assigned scores. Houghton County received a high score, meaning the county is a certified, connected county.