Moonshot Broadband Internet Survey RESULTS

Making a Case for High Speed Internet in Lapeer County:

What a time it is! High speed internet deployment will be, arguably, the greatest national infrastructure project our Country undertakes. To some degree every state, county, and municipality has questioned their community’s high speed internet capabilities. And for good reason. From a competitive advantage point of view, high speed internet is the tool to preserve and better your community. More so than roads, water, sewer, wells, and septic. A community claim of reliable high speed internet will sustain population, provide educational opportunities, create jobs, enhance senior services, and support law enforcement; future tax payers will rank internet reliability before moving in. Lapeer County aims to support county-wide service.

Of course, projects of this scale and magnitude require money, which in some respect is not the problem. Michigan counties have unprecedented federal and state supported funding options for high speed internet development. The problem lies with all the inherit challenges that comes with funding large scale projects: feasibility, labor, sustainability. Lapeer County is no exception to this rule.    

Lapeer County by the numbers was awarded $17.2 million through the American Rescue Plan Act.  A great sum of that award will be directed towards high speed internet. Capital improvements and quality of life projects, such as parks and recreation are the other primary categories. Lapeer County’s population of 88,513 equates to roughly 34,000 family households and another 2,000 businesses. Lapeer County is committed to internet funding. We will not know exact numbers until our feasibility study is complete. But why internet? Why not public transportation, why not grant making for businesses, why not affordable housing, why not agriculture projects? Because through a county-wide internet survey those endeavors rely in some degree on high speed internet. The data is driving our decisions.

This author is fortunate to serve as Lapeer County Administrator/Controller and the Chair of the County’s Broadband Committee via the county’s economic development agency, Lapeer Development Corporation. The partnership serves as an efficient medium between government, business, and residents. As we engage in an independent feasibility study and pre-engineering plan this group serves as a sounding board and advocacy group. A newly created community channel via social media outlets will serve as medium for ongoing updates.

The key driver for high speed internet investment is our current data and 20 year forecast. Frankly, our county’s death rate is outpacing our birth rate. And, if housing starts over the last 2 years were any indicator or future growth, senior housing developers out built single family developers. We have geared ourselves towards our greatest demographic. Older adults 45 – 65 plus make up 49.3% of our current population. Our future, young adults aged to settle into professional careers and raise families make up only 22% and as part of their everyday lives an internet connection to access work and connect socially is required. We see high speed internet as part of our retention and attraction strategy. As the state’s sixth lowest ranked millage we recognize population is directly correlated to tax base. 

So what to do with it? Extremely helpful towards the cause would be if the state’s newly minted Michigan Hi-Speed Internet Office could cross reference and matrix funding programs which would help counties make decisions. A well-defined funding options plan would help counties understand what funding options exists, if they are eligible to apply themselves, or if they need to partner and most importantly which type of partners they should be seeking collaboration. Determining funding is only rival to the other immediate need of labor. Lapeer County’s close working partnership with the Lapeer County Immediate School District’s Educational Technology Center, as well as our region’s Michigan Works division, GST Michigan Works, is working through the options to position graduates and transitioning workforce into technology fields that will be critical for deployment and maintenance of high speed internet infrastructure.

To rethink our future we’re rethinking our strategies. We are starting with the end in mind. Reliable high speed internet across the entirety of Lapeer County is our objective. Our strategies will include public/private partnerships, an open middle mile, and transmission through multiple technologies. How do we get it done, what tactics do we deploy?  Those are to be determined by investing in our own data and partnering with those that can deliver on our objective. The data we use to make these decisions must be clear, uninhibited, and disaggregated. We owe it our constituents. Truly, this is a remarkable time in county government and, personally, to be helping move Lapeer County into a more sustainable future.