Broadband funding online for Copper Country

HOUGHTON — Some underserved parts of the Copper Country will get high-speed internet through new grants and loans announced by USDA Rural Development Thursday.

The $759 million in ReConnect Program funding includes $59 million for rural communities in Michigan. Two of the four projects are in the Upper Peninsula.

The Baraga Telephone Company (UP.net) will use a $3,302,981 loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 362 people, four farms and two businesses to high-speed internet in Houghton County.

The Upper Peninsula Telephone Company will use a $34,532,301 grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,625 people, 69 farms, 40 businesses and two educational facilities to high-speed internet in Dickinson, Luce, Mackinac, Marquette, Menominee and Ontonagon counties. The recipient will make high-speed internet affordable by participating in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity and the Lifeline programs.

“At the end of the day we live in a global economy and delivering broadband to our rural communities will give them the resources they need for economic development and be competitive anywhere in the state,” said Brandon Fewins, state director for Rural Deveopment. “This will enhance educational opportunities and ensure our residents have access to needed telemedicine.”

There have already been several rounds of funding through the ReConnect Program, which upgrades service in areas where speeds are less than 100 megabits per second (Mbps) for download and 20 Mbps for upload. The applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing high-speed internet service with speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area.

“While that’s the overlying goal, we also try to be flexible and reasonable with the applicants,” Fewins said.

Each applicant will have their own timeline, but work is expected to happen “fairly rapidly,” Fewins said.

The UP.net project will extend from the north side of Tapiola along the Chassell-Painesdale Road to Superior Road going into Dodgeville, said vice president Koray Inal.

Some areas between Houghton, Chassell and Tapiola previously had no service, such as the Onkalos Corner Road area. Some only had outdated DSL connections.

“We have heard from some of the residents living in that area that they use some wireless internet providers, but I think the experience has been fairly slow,” he said. “A lot of residents in that area have had no service.”

The new connections will start at 500 Mbps, Inal said.

He’s talked with municipalities such as Chassell Township, which sees high-speed internet as a necessity to attract new residents looking to work remotely.

Where people coming into an area might once have only been curious about well, septic, or electrical service, Inal said he increasingly hears calls about the internet situation for a given area.

“It’s become a very basic utility, and I think the opportunity under these funds to speed up our expansion to these remote areas that have been historically very undeserved is a tremendous opportunity that we’re looking forward to,” he said.

There may be more. In the first three rounds of ReConnect funding, rural communities received more than $3.1 billion for high-speed internet.

“The packages that were passed earlier contain literally tens of billions of dollars on broadband, so we’ll be working on this for the next several years,” Fewins said. “After this, we’ll see what Congress decides to appropriate.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today