Prologue: High-speed internet access is critical to our community’s success. Our businesses and residents having affordable access to this essential utility is vital for our community to become an exceptional place where everyone thrives.
The Midland Area Community Foundation is a member of the Midland County Internet Connectivity Committee, an initiative of the Midland Business Alliance. The Midland County Internet Connectivity Committee was formed in 2019 with the mission to provide high-speed internet in Midland County. The goal is to provide all Midland County households, businesses, and schools access to affordable, quality broadband. The Committee works with industry experts to identify high-priority areas and cost-efficient measures to deliver high-speed internet to significant portions of the population, helping to close the digital divide.
The County of Midland has worked alongside the Midland Business Alliance and the Midland County Internet Connectivity Committee to amplify, support, and elevate the Committee’s work. The County of Midland’s Administrator & Controller, Bridgette Gransden, and the President & CEO of the Midland Business Alliance, Tony Stamas, recently sat down to discuss this important and collaborative initiative.
Tony: “During the pandemic, I think it became very clear how essential internet access is. I compare it to rural electrification 100 years ago. It has fundamentally changed the way we live. Whether it’s for school, work, or the ability to travel, you need to have connectivity. It has become as essential as having electricity in your home. As a community, if we’re going to continue to grow and thrive, this is an initiative we have to focus on. Regardless of whether it’s from an economic development perspective or to attract families, it’s absolutely critical that we are able to provide high-quality broadband at an affordable price to our residents.”
Bridgette: “It’s really about quality of life and inclusiveness, too – that’s that affordability piece. It’s not just about access. There are various ways to access the internet. Broadband means high-speed access – it could be through fiber, satellite, copper cable, or cellular. There are some places where you may have access, or someone might have access to cellular data but no access to cable, copper line, satellite, or fiber optic. There are pockets of places in town that have terrible cellular coverage. Satellite internet can be extremely expensive and very cost-prohibitive for people, as well.”
Tony: “We have been working with the County’s GIS and Technology Department to implement what we know about Midland’s ALICE ( Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population on our mapping and in our tools. We’re looking to pull all our tools together so we’re the most informed, and then that way, when we’re working with ISP providers, and they’re looking at infrastructure investment, we can have the most accurate information to utilize as we apply for grants or work with them to build.”
Bridgette: “The broadband initiative is only served well if there are a lot of players with community support because we have to touch so many, so many corners of the County. Vendors have to be partners. The Road Commission has to be a partner, and we need technical people who genuinely know what they’re talking about. We have to be in step with vendors when they’re talking terminology and making sure they understand what we’re talking about and that we’re all speaking the same language and saying the same things.”
Tony: “Bridgette mentioned the Road Commission – that’s a really good example of effective collaboration. We had one ISP provider that was looking at building in one of our townships, and they said, ‘Well, we’ve had a challenge in terms of the roadways in certain spots.’ We had the Road Commission go out there, and they said, ‘Yeah, we can work with you on that.’ They understand how important this is. They want to partner with us. We want to work with partners that are going to most effectively help people throughout Midland County.”
Bridgette: “I can find the silver lining in anything. COVID, as terrible as it was (and is), I thank for helping shine a light on something that I’ve been talking about for a long time. When all of a sudden, people couldn’t leave their homes, and their kitchen tables became their classrooms, offices, and more, it became apparent how critical internet access is as a utility.”
Tony: “We want to be transparent with our community, and we are open to receiving input and suggestions. We have visited every unit of government, every Township, both cities, the Village of Sanford, and that’s just a start. We’re going to need to hear from residents because we can get data and collect it, but sometimes, what actually happens in your neighborhood or home is different than what shows up in the data.”
Bridgette: “There’s no real there’s not a stopping point with this work. There are milestones we’ll reach, and we’ll continue to reach more, but the work will never be done. In the words of Sharon Mortensen, President and CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation, we will be, ‘Always thankful and never satisfied.’ I want Midland County to be the place where other counties in the country look to see the best way to tackle this focus area. The impact on residents in the long run is the only thing that really matters. Our people are beautiful, and I want other people to look at Midland and say, ‘Gosh, they did all that, and look at how it impacted the people.’ That’s my hope for our community and this initiative.”
Tony: “This process is going to take a long time, but we hope through collaboration, we are able to move the needle on broadband accessibility and affordability in our community and, quite possibly, the region. We want Midland County to be a community of choice. How do we look toward the future? We’ve had some great opportunities because of what Midlanders have done before us. Now, how do we do likewise for those coming after?”