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High-speed internet service planned for rural NE Michigan

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Connect Michigan
Large areas of Northeast Michigan lack access to high-speed internet infrastructure.

High-speed internet infrastructure is in the works for a rural part of northern Michigan. The plan calls for fiber optic cable to run alongside existing power lines.

A backbone of high-capacity internet cabling run by Merit Network already connects institutions like hospitals, schools and government buildings in Northern Michigan. Under the plan, the Presque Isle Electric and Gas Cooperative would install fiber optic lines branching off from that backbone.

Pierrette Renee Dagg, a spokesperson for Merit Network, explained the structure: “We’re like the highway, and P-I-E-G is like the neighborhood roads that go to the houses,” she said.

Michigan’s map of high-speed internet service shows vast areas in the northeast of the state don’t have access to that highway.

But Dagg said simply connecting those houses to high-speed infrastructure will still leave gaps in access.

“There are a lot of ongoing challenges, obviously,” she said. “Just having the highway doesn’t mean you have the car, doesn’t mean you have the driver’s license or you know how to operate it.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s economic recovery plan includes a goal of everyone in the state having access to high-speed internet within 5 years, but even that plan acknowledges not everyone will have the money or equipment to use the infrastructure.

Dagg said high-speed internet access is not just about convenience. Data from Michigan’s high speed internet office show it’s associated with higher student test scores, and it’s also increasingly important for farmers.

“You may have an irrigation system that talks to a fertilizing system that talks to a feeding system that talks to a well-pump system,” Dagg said. “It’s like the internet of things on a farm.”

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.