Northeast Michigan co-op connects 1,000th customer to high-speed internet
A northeast Michigan utilities co-op has connected its 1,000th customer to high-speed internet.
President and CEO of Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op, Tom Sobeck, told WCMU this is a watershed moment for the company.
PIE&G only began developing the internet division of the company just three years ago, as demand for access to high-speed internet spiked during the pandemic.
Sobeck said the company is trying to fill a gaping hole many for-profit internet services providers have not been willing to take on in the region.
"You can look five years ago at an internet coverage map, and we're literally dark, there's no light in the middle of our territory. And it's because it's remote. There are very few houses and businesses in some portions of our territory," said Sobeck.
Sobeck added the region is also plagued with spotty cell phone service, leaving residents with limited options for accessing high-speed internet.
One of the many reasons the need for high-speed internet access is growing is the rise of telehealth.
But Sobeck said many rural healthcare providers in the northeast rely on grants and can’t always provide telehealth because patients have limited access. Sobeck said this impacts their grant applications.
"And the grant organizations are like, what do you mean it's not available? And their like, it's simply not there," said Sobeck.
Sobeck added the upcoming influx of cash from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will likely expand coverage in the region, as the company is gearing up to apply for additional funds to expand coverage.
The federal bill is providing $65 billion to increase access to affordable high-speed internet across the country.
Michigan's High Speed Internet Office has been touring the state to meet with residents to better understand their struggles in accessing the internet.
The office says the tour will better inform their decision making when it comes to allocating future broadband infrastructure policy and grant funding.
PIE&G projects having at least 1,800 more northeast Michigan residents connected to high-speed internet by the end of the year.