Wireless provider looking to link rural communities

TRAVERSE CITY – Stretching from a farm outside Leland to a coffee shop in Benzie County, high-speed Internet connectivity is on its way to northern Michigan.

Tino Breithaupt, Senior Vice President of the Traverse Bay Economic Corporation, has been the driving force behind the move.

"This is huge for rural economic development," said Breithaupt. "It means that people and businesses don't have to move closer to places like Traverse City in order to get high-speed Internet."

Breithaupt met with officials from SpeedNet LLC in the spring, shortly after taking his new job with the EDC. SpeedNet, the largest wireless broadband provider in Michigan, had been awarded a $5.6 million grant by the Michigan Broadband Authority to connect rural communities.

"As it stands now, if you live in a rural area and want a broadband connection, you call Charter and they hook you up with cable. It can get pretty expensive," said Breithaupt. "So we were looking for a way to help economic development in our area by using wireless."

SpeedNet said its move to northern Michigan is part of its continuing expansion program.

"This move is a logical progression for us," said John Ogren, president and CEO of the Saginaw-based company. "Our goal is to build a geographical chain that links communities."

SpeedNet Internet services are unlike that of cable and DSL, as the company utilizes FCC-licensed bandwidths to send its signal, "resulting in exceptionally fast, secure and reliable wireless Internet services," according to Ogren.

The company sends its signal from a transmitter to a specially-designed external modem that plugs into the customer's computer instead of through traditional coaxial cable or telephone wires.

Where does the company mount its transmitters?

"That's what they are in the process of investigating right now," said Breithaupt. "They are looking at radio towers, water towers, cell phone towers and, in some cases, light poles at football fields."

Breithaupt said that SpeedNet is looking to mount 18 to 25 of these transmitters in northern Michigan to link the five counties.

"Our job in economic development is to try and facilitate discussions between SpeedNet and local governments," he said. "This is pretty cool stuff because of the economic impact it can have on rural communities."

Between now and the end of the year, Breithaupt said SpeedNet will determine where to deploy the transmitters. Installation will begin in early 2007. BN