June 2023 Broadband Informational Update

Since 2021, the Calhoun County Broadband Task Force has been working toward solutions to expand affordable, high-speed internet to our residents and businesses. This email shares updates on what has been accomplished so far during 2023, and what to expect over the coming months.

Click each of these sections to learn more: 

Calhoun County Broadband CTC Report
broadband reportEarlier this year, a report was issued by the County’s consultants, CTC Technology and Energy, outlining possible options for improving connectivity in Calhoun County and increasing the number and success of residents who use the internet. It offered three solutions for expanding fiber-to-the-premise solutions countywide, including a countywide network (which was outside of the County’s potential at $350M) and the cost of expanding just to unserved and underserved households, which can be covered by two upcoming grant processes— Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks (ROBIN) Grant and Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Grant. 

This report was shared with the Task Force, township leadership, and other partners as next steps were considered. The County decided to focus on the most upcoming state grant process, which was the ROBIN grant that Internet Service Providers were eligible to apply for.  

By recommendation of the CTC report, the Broadband Task Force also began focusing on increasing enrollment of eligible households in the Affordable Connectivity Plan (ACP) and considering digital equity solutions in Calhoun County. Information about Calhoun County’s ACP education campaign is below.

ISP Interest in Calhoun County
rfpA Request for Proposals (RFP) for Broadband Network Expansion was issued at the end of 2022. Five internet service providers (ISP) responded, and the County supported two grant applications—from ACD.net and Comcast--seeking funding through Michigan’s new ROBIN grant program. Their ROBIN applications, if successful, would provide fiber to the premise for unserved and underserved households, primarily in the northeast and southeast corners of Calhoun County. If successful, 7,600 addresses would be connected to high-speed internet by 2026. 

The RFP process also showed us that ISPs Midwest Electric Cooperative, 123.net and Lit Communities are interested in increasing service in Calhoun County. While they did not intend to apply for ROBIN funds, this information helps Calhoun County and the Task Force understand the possibilities for future fiber expansion, especially in consideration of the next grant process. 

The ROBIN grant process offers $250M of funds in Michigan for network expansion to unserved and underserved households, and the next grant process is significantly larger. The BEAD Grant, which is being distributed from the federal government, is projected to bring $1.7B of funds for network expansion to Michigan. The BEAD Grant is different from ROBIN because governments can apply directly for funds, which opens more opportunities for Calhoun County to think creatively about how to increase access. Calhoun County Government and the Task Force are now considering what those next steps will be, even before information has been released about the BEAD application. By planning ahead, we hope to be prepared to submit a strategic BEAD grant application.

Updating and Challenging the FCC Broadband Map
broadband challengeFederal Communications Commission (FCC) Broadband maps are notoriously inaccurate, which impacts knowledge of what internet service is available to households nationwide. As federal grant funds are distributed, the inaccuracy of these maps has an impact on monies available because allocations are based on internet availability as referenced in the FCC broadband map. To rectify this, the FCC offered a map challenge process for individual households and entities like Calhoun County and the State, to contest inaccuracies in the map.

County staff has collaborated with the Broadband Data Collection Working Group hosted by Merit Network to discuss strategies for challenging the FCC maps. Using infrastructure data provided by the State’s Michigan High Speed Internet Office, Calhoun County Communications and Geographic Information Services (GIS) submitted a bulk availability challenge of 9,558 locations in Calhoun County; essentially we said that 9,558 do not have availability as the FCC states that they do. As of the beginning of June, 2,247 have been conceded by the Internet Service Providers that it’s accurate that those households are not served, and 7,272 are still pending, either with proof by the ISP that service is available or unknown. 

The Task Force continues to urge the public to help in this effort by checking their home address on national FCC internet maps to see if the information provided is accurate. By making sure the data is accurate, we can ensure that Calhoun County is positioned to get the maximum federal and state funding for improving internet services in our community. For information on how to do that, visit the tab below that says, “How to Submit an Individual Map Challenge” 

Closing the Digital Divide
digital dividePer the recommendation of CTC Technology & Energy Report to increase enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), County staff developed an outreach campaign to inform eligible populations about the program that can make broadband more affordable. The goal is to close the gap of how many households in Calhoun County are eligible for ACP and how many are actually enrolled; the CTC report identified that 34% of households in Calhoun County are eligible (approximately 18,000), but only 27% of those are enrolled (5,073 households are enrolled). This is a benefit of $30/month off of an internet bill, which could be the difference of connecting for many. 

County staff has begun meeting with organizations that are automatically eligible, like WIC and Veterans Affairs, to provide education and resources to help with enrollment. In that process, other paths toward increasing adoption of broadband were identified, such as sharing with residents where they can find public WiFi connections, device assistance, or printing. Additionally, as federal funds are available specifically to help with the issue of “digital equity,” which refers to all aspects of closing the digital divide, the Task Force recognized that a subcommittee could help with this effort.  

In April 2023 the Calhoun County Broadband Task Force formed a Digital Equity Subcommittee that will work on Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) education and outreach, and also helping to coordinate a countywide plan for improving resources for residents needing help with internet access and usage. This subcommittee is made up of representatives from CareWell Services, City of Albion, Grace Health, Kellogg Community College, Marshall District Library, Senior Millage, and others. 

Learn more about the Affordable Connectivity Plan at www.fcc.gov/acp

Calhoun as a Leader in Broadband
Several County employees have continued to be engaged with broadband groups around Michigan by attending conferences and meetings with Merit Network, the Michigan High Speed Internet Office Listening Tour in Coldwater and Battle Creek, and Federal Program Officer Ben Fineman from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.  We also keep in touch with other county administrators to discuss broadband solutions, and our Communications staff presented Calhoun’s Broadband Initiative at Merit Network’s Go Boldly! Conference in May. Our Broadband Task Force continues to be seen as a leader in Michigan with the work we’ve done with surveys and other community input, efforts to correct national availability map data, engineering consulting, legislative advocacy and conversations with our local internet providers.  Our investment of American Rescue Plan Allocation (ARPA) funds, and our progress so far will position us well for our share of billions of dollars of new federal funds soon to be allocated for broadband expansion initiatives.  We are committed to increasing  affordability and access for Calhoun County residents.

Next steps: 
  • Continue to have strategic conversations with internet service providers as potential partners to seek funding and develop plans to expand to all locations within the County high-speed, affordable internet.
  • Monitor and help ensure corrections for Calhoun County addresses are made to the national FCC map, and then participate in challenging discrepancies on the Michigan map.
  • Close the digital divide by building up local digital resources and tools in the County.

How to Submit an Individual Map Challenge