WASHINGTON, October 29, 2014 – Small business owners, teachers, librarians and representatives broadband industry official gathered at the 2014 Michigan Broadband Conference in the city of Lansing on Wednesday to discuss affordable and innovative ways to enhance Michiganians’ internet access. The conference was hosted by Connect Michigan, a Michigan subsidiary of the non-profit national group Connected Nation .
The conference’s three main panels covered the competitive edge of technology for small businesses, rural broadband infrastructure development and ultra-high-speed broadband network development.
One topic that kept returning to the forefront during the question and answer session were slow broadband speeds. Some cited 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) in rural areas or the lack of internet connectivity altogether.
Representatives from ISPs and local nonprofits said that higher download speeds of 10-30 Mbps are either available or coming soon to the rural areas of Michigan. But several attendees from various backgrounds expressed their concern with those levels of connectivity, giving the pace of innovation in the technology industry. They said that 30 Mbps barely meets demand, and doesn’t future-proof their communities. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has also said that 25 Mbps is very limited connectivity for 21st century communications. But others in rural areas who currently get internet over dial-up connection, or slow 1.5 Mbps connections, said they would be happy with 5-10 Mbps.
Another problem Connect Michigan faces in fulfilling its mission arises from rural communities themselves. Many local municipalities have broadband-hostile ordinances: many communities don’t want large ugly cell tower in their quaint towns.
Todd Wells, the sales manager for Casair, said that his company uses both wired and wireless solutions, including fiber wires and cell towers to provide rural areas with internet connectivity. Wells said he worked with many of these hostile rural communities, and recounted how many representatives from the towns said that they don’t want companies like Casair laying fiber through their towns.
These communities also think that they do not need more options, Wells said, since they already have one ISP. Casair brought internet connectivity to the rural town of Walkerville by building a tower – even though the town was an hour away from the provider’s main territory. Growing demand eventually led Casair to build two more towers.