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Recent News // New Data Mapping Should Lead to Improved Broadband Services

Monday, April 03, 2017

April 1, 2017
The Sault St. Marie Evening News  

If information is power, the quest to improve and expand internet access in the Eastern Upper Peninsula just got an important jolt, thanks to the compiled and mapped results of a broadband survey by the Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning and Development Commission (EUPRPDC).

Over a period of months in 2016, area residents received and completed surveys inquiring about their use of the internet, its availability to them, and their willingness to pay for better internet service. With an 8.6 percent response rate to the surveys, planners were able to map the results in a way that is meaningful to internet service providers.

“This project was designed to find out where the demand in the region exists for new or, in most cases, improved access to the internet or broadband,” explained Eric Wedesky, EUPRPDC Planner.

“We have been hearing for years how this is an issue. Many folks outside the urban areas can only access the internet at slow speeds using services that are not prevalent anymore elsewhere in the state,” he added.

Now, thanks to the surveys, economic developers and planners have tangible, specific information that will be useful to internet service providers (ISPs). Information about the project, survey results and map can be found online at eup-planning.org/internetaccess.

“We understand that ISPs have a business to run, so we wanted to identify where there may be a business case for improved services by mapping the data,” Wedesky said.

The resulting map features filters that allow the user to examine variables and different geographies in as broad or as finite a way as desired. For instance, where previously economic developers may have only been able to say that a particular community or township needs better internet service, with the help of this map and the associated data, they can drill down to discover where specifically people need better options, how much they are willing to pay, how many residents versus businesses are in need, and whether they are willing to pay a one-time installation fee.

Jeff Hagan, EUPRPDC Chief Executive Officer, said the project was inspired by part by the work done by the EUP Intermediate School District in the area of broadband expansion.

“We also sought to identify where issues completing schoolwork, both for K-12 students and adults pursuing online degrees, are concentrated,” Hagan said.

Gathering the information and mapping it in a useful fashion was only the start of the process. EUPRPDC is working with Connect Michigan to share the data with local internet service providers.

Additionally, economic developers in each county will have access to the information and some additional guidance on using the mapping functions, working with ISPs, and pursuing the ultimate goal of filling the gaps wherever feasible.

Hagan and Wedesky are working toward the goal of approaching ISPs with one, strong message. “Here is newly-collected data. We would like you to have it so that you can ensure as many people as possible are able to access the internet at speeds commensurate with our times and the rest of the state,” is what Wedesky describes as the over-arching message.

“We recognize that internet services can be very expensive to provide and that one house that may check all the right boxes but is located 15 miles from the next closest customer probably won’t be helped in the short term. But if we are able to help a few homes – and hopefully many more than that – near where services are already being provided, then we will view that as a major success,” Hagan said.