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Alcona County seeks to expand internet access

HARRISVILLE — Alcona County’s newly established Economic Development Corp. would like to see high-speed internet more easily accessible to businesses and residents throughout the county.

Chairman Doug Cheek said there are various amounts of fiber, one type of infrastructure used to provide internet services, “dotted” around the county, but there are also problems with getting internet to homes or businesses. Additionally, he said there are many places in the county that are either underserved or do not have access to the internet.

“This becomes a real critical thing for everybody, no matter where they are on the spectrum,” he said. “If they’re a business, obviously, they need to work the internet at reasonable speeds. If they’re farmers, they need to work through the internet to get to their markets and find out commodity pricing and things of that nature.”

When the EDC was formed, broadband was determined to be among the top five economic development issues the county faces, Cheek said.

“When that exercise was over, it was unanimous that, without broadband, you really can’t get to other economic development issues that are challenging within the county,” he said. “There are several. We thought broadband was a hugely important first step.”

He said the EDC is currently trying to identify about a half-dozen anchor sites within the county, where a foundation of high-speed fiber could be installed.

He said some parts of the county may receive other types of internet services.

“What’s gone on, up to this point, is those carriers don’t even talk to the rural areas, because the economic model for them just doesn’t exist,” he said. “They want to see 100 households in a square mile.”

Using that economic model, he said, the county falls off the table very quickly in terms of places internet services providers want to invest.

“That’s what makes efforts like this all the more important — to start with a catalyst and try to move capabilities out into the county in some way, shape or form,” Cheek said. “There are a number of ways to get it, but to get it to people, there has yet to be any organized, concerted effort under anybody.”

Cheek said the infrastructure will get built by finding providers and partners to work with and by seeking out grants and other financial support.

“Part of that is talking to partners, suppliers, people we might consider using on a consultant basis — all of that is yet to come,” he said. “We are literally in the infancy stage here, and we’re going to try to put the best building blocks in front of ourselves as we move along.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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