The rural and the wireless: the EDC’s goal for high-speed Internet remains just that

REGION – High-speed Internet access in the region's more rural spots remains a goal of area economic development leaders, but the private company expected to lead the way has apparently pulled the plug on leading the effort, according to the senior vice president of economic development for the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

"It's been a little frustrating," said Tino Breithaupt of SpeedNet no longer working with the EDC on the project. "It's just one of those things I guess happens, unfortunately."

SpeedNet, which began talks with the Economic Development Authority in 2006 to bring wireless to northern Michigan, hasn't officially informed Breithaupt of its decision to back off the plan. But it also hasn't been in contact with him for a while, Breithaupt said.

"I can tell you they (SpeedNet) have not moved forward with their plans for northern Michigan," he said. "Attempts to communicate with them have been unsuccessful."

Breithaupt emphasized there was no contract in place with SpeedNet. "We didn't lose out on any dollars invested in this deal."

"They supposedly received funding from the Michigan Broadband Development Authority to supposedly deploy their technologies into northern Michigan," he added. "We jumped on the bandwagon to say now that you have received this funding, how can we work with you? How can we help you? How can we broker, how can we convene on your behalf? It was time and energy with them…They had done their inventory assessment on towers, they had a game plan, a time line they shared with us. They said 18 to 25 towers throughout the five-county region."

Messages left with SpeedNet were not returned.

The plan now is to move forward with talks with other potential providers, including Elk Rapids-based Cherry Capital Connection and an outfit out of Tampa, Fla., Network Knowledge Systems. These two companies could end up working together to bring wireless connectivity to the region, Breithaupt said.

"We're still moving forward to try to continue with the progress of implementing and deploying high-speed connectivity throughout the region," he said.

Ensuring high-speed Internet access was, in fact, a goal Breithaupt set for his organization in 2007.

"I think the goal has gotten a little bit broader on our end," he said. "We are certainly looking to convene the proper parties together in terms of bringing together the person who needs it and the person who provides it."

Cherry Capital Connection hopes it includes them, said Tim Maylone, the company's general manager. He's been in talks with the EDC, as well as government officials and residents in more rural areas, in hopes of securing the opportunity to help bring in high-speed Internet capabilities.

"We have asked (the EDC) to help us create a scenario where if you want to call it a loan or a grant, money is available to us to build the infrastructure and subsidize the consumer," Maylone said. "We'll offer lower monthly rates…and freebies, like hot spots. We'll go out to regions where there may be only one or two customers. The solution is there, we just all have got to get together and make it happen. We're a local-based company and we want to do it."

Breithaupt remains confident of the eventual deployment of this technology throughout the five-county region. This could happen by working with rural government bodies, which could provide some funding through their revolving loan programs. Another potential option: securing funds through the EDC's just-getting-off-the-ground regional development fund.

"We're looking to certainly advocate more high-speed Internet connectivity in our rural areas," he said. "The more connectivity we have in our northern Michigan region, the easier it is to sell this place to someone who is doing business around the world." BN