Building A Broadband Backbone

June 5, 2002
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LANSING — A coalition of government agencies, trade associations and higher education groups has banded together to try to link Michigan with a statewide broadband network.

The LinkMichigan Initiative is a strategic and cooperative attempt to turn the state’s telecom infrastructure into one of the nation’s best.

Unveiled last month by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Executive Committee, LinkMichigan has been designated as vital to the state’s economic future and has been designed to tackle some of the critical telecom issues facing Michigan. These problems, as identified by the committee, include:

  •  Dissatisfaction with broadband or bandwidth availability in the state.
  •  Lack of an adequate backbone infrastructure to carry high-speed broadband traffic throughout the state.
  • Little or no information on availability and accessibility of telecom infrastructure.
  •  Lack of understanding in parts of the state of the importance of developing a telecom infrastructure.

“In today’s business environment, high-speed telecommunications service is becoming a necessity, not a luxury, for both the public and private sector,” said David Brandon, MEDC executive committee chairman.

“Michigan has long been a powerhouse in economic development,” he added. “However, if the issue of greater telecommunications access isn’t addressed, the state could lose its leadership role.”

To prevent that from happening, LinkMichigan will attack the problems four ways:

1. By leveraging demand statewide to create a high-speed backbone. This means the collective purchase of advanced telecom services for schools, governments and other public users. It also means requiring a provider to build a backbone that reaches most of the state, and a vendor to wholesale excess capacity to create competition.

2. By creating a level playing field. This means establishing similar rights-of-way permits, common rules, and single-fee system for all carriers.

3. By increasing the access to information. This means enacting laws that require all telecom carriers to provide specific network location and capability information. It also means developing quality-of-service standards and links reporting to the approval of permits.

4. By providing community assistance. This means giving communities planning grants to help develop the “last-mile” solutions, and to encourage communities to link local efforts to the statewide initiative.

The MEDC and the Department of Management and Budget have been designated to lead much of this effort. But neither agency is working alone. A number of organizations have jumped on the broadband bandwagon. The Michigan Manufacturers Association, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Center for Automotive Research are just three of these that have signed on to LinkMichigan.

“Michigan’s automotive industry is once again confronted with many challenges. Perhaps the most difficult challenge is the industry’s commitment to moving from an old business model, or way of doing things, to a new business model that incorporates many new exciting technologies and ways of producing value for automotive consumers,” said David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research.

“However, the automotive sector cannot even begin to accomplish this transition without the e-tools so necessary to get the job done. That is why the LinkMichigan study is of the greatest concern to the state’s premier industry,” he added.

As for the Small Business Association, LinkMichigan may help satisfy one of its longtime objectives: to create a competitive telecom industry across the state. The group met with lawmakers in March and urged them to speed up the implementation of that environment.

Other participants are the Michigan Township Association, the Michigan Municipal League, the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning, the Michigan Community College Association, the Presidents Council of State Universities and Cyberstate.Org.

In addition to the problems and recommendations the LinkMichigan report contains, it also paints a virtual portrait of the broadband situation in the state. Here is just a handful of that information.

  • An MEDC Business Attitudes survey showed that nearly 8 of 10 companies would not be expanding their Internet capabilities in the next six months.
  • Fifty-five percent of the owners surveyed reported they were very satisfied with their current Internet service, 22 percent were satisfied, while 23 percent were dissatisfied.
  • Forty-six percent of the owners surveyed said Internet access was done through a dial-up modem, 10 percent used a cable modem, while 8 percent used a T-1 line.
  • No Michigan city was on a nationwide list of the top 25 metro areas with the most broadband competition. New York was No.1 with 17 carriers, while the metro Detroit area was ranked 38th with five fiber networks, the only Michigan region with more than one.

For the complete LinkMichigan Initiative report, visit the MEDC at www.michigan.org, click on “News” and then on the report. 

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