Muskegon Outside HighSpeed Loop

March 21, 2003
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Overall, the ability to access high-speed Internet service in Muskegon County is limited, preliminary survey results of businesses and residents show.

If you need something that offers a higher connection speed than DSL or cable modem service, your options appear even more limited.

“At the high end of connectivity, we’re in terrible shape,” said Eduardo Bedoya, the information systems manager for Muskegon County who’s heading an initiative designed to increase the local availability of broadband Internet services.

Muskegon is one of several counties across Michigan, including Ottawa and Kent, that received grants last year from the state to analyze local telecommunications networks, conduct a needs assessment, and formulate a plan to bring new investment to the community and broaden local access to broadband services.

The idea is that identifying a market demand for service will spur interest among telecommunications firms to begin investing in those counties and deploy or enhance high-speed Internet service where it’s needed.

“The state is counting on the synergy that this is going to generate,” Bedoya said. “This is like a market study for everybody to view.”

Muskegon County is undertaking the initiative with a $100,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp’s. LinkMichigan initiative. The state will make additional financing available to help finance service improvements.

A recent survey of residents and businesses found gaps in the Muskegon County market where high-speed DSL or cable modem service in not available, particularly in rural areas. In some cases, DSL that was available on one street was unavailable down the block, Bedoya said.

“It’s not uniform,” Bedoya said.

“There are pockets in quite a few areas of the county where there are no services or broadband, period.”

The surveys LinkMuskegon recently conducted of area residents and businesses are finding a growing level of frustration over the service voids, he said.

For Muskegon County and others, the issue comes down to economic development.

If a community doesn’t have readily available the telecommunications infrastructure and high-speed services a business needs, an employer is apt to relocate to another community or look elsewhere when planning a new facility.

Bedoya cites the example of a publishing company that recently moved from Muskegon to Grand Rapids because it could not access the kind of high-speed Internet service required to transmit large databases in a timely manner.

“We lost that business right away,” Bedoya said.

He believes the LinkMuskegon initiative will lead to new broadband investments in Muskegon County. That would come, he believes, through the deployment of fiber-optic lines or wireless Internet service over the next several years to gradually fill some of the high-speed service gaps.

He said new investments could occur over a broader area than Muskegon County, as firms respond to a larger demonstrable market demand that is identified from several LinkMichigan studies and seek to maximize their return on investment.

A draft report of the LinkMuskegon’s plan to generate improvements in local broadband Internet service is due out in May.

A final report is scheduled for completion in June.

On Tuesday, organizers of the Ottawa County LinkMichigan effort will present findings from similar surveys.

A one-hour community forum is set for 9 a.m. in the lower level conference room of the Ottawa County Administrative Building at the county’s Fillmore Complex, on Fillmore Street near 120th Avenue.

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