Rural Schoolcraft Co. to Get internet Upgrade in 2023

December 20, 2021

MANISTIQUE – Residents in rural areas of Schoolcraft County will have access to high-speed internet in the near future. A presentation by the company intending to complete a fiber network in the area was provided during the recent Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The meeting’s presentation began with Bruce Moore, president and CEO of Highline Fiber Internet Midwest and Tanya Sullivan, grassroots liaison for Highline Internet. The company is based in Georgia, but is now offering its services to Michigan.

“Highline is an established company, but new in Michigan,” Moore explained. “We are a company … providing rural broadband access, not only in Michigan … but also in Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Georgia, and Nebraska under the Highline brand.

The reason we’re in Michigan is because the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), in my opinion, finally came out with a program that is really going to help unserved and underserved households in your community,” he added. “There’s been billions of dollars spent on broadband over many, many administrations, but very little of that broadband money actually affected the consumer or the household. We know, and I think you know, there’s households in your community where work from home is impossible, school from home is impossible, taking advantage of telehealth, streaming services … are just not possible because of the internet connection.”

I believe the rural households have the same needs as urban [households]…It’s a full suite of that kind of internet connectivity.

Moore also stated that Highline was awarded a $188 million grant from the FCC’s recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. The RDOF awards cover the Upper Peninsula and Thumb regions of Michigan and cover more than 48,000 unserved and underserved houses in those rural areas. The all-fiber, symmetrical gigabit 6,000-mile network was under construction starting in July and, in October, the company began providing internet service to customers.

“The FCC gives us six years to complete our build,” Moore said. “We have a total of almost 50,000 households – about 40,000 are in the U.P. – the balance is downstate in the Thumb area. We think that this project is going to make a significant difference for the households in the Upper Peninsula.”

Moore noted that many households will go from no internet to “the best available anywhere in the United States, which is a real game changer”.

Sullivan stated that the company has been meeting with commissioners and stakeholders throughout the U.P. and spoke of the “need for connectivity in the U.P., in particular.”

“This [grant] program is actually enabling us to do this and Schoolcraft [County], this area, is part of our, not only obligated build area, but part of the whole plan.”

Moore then went into explaining the type of internet service provided by Highline.

“When we talk about 1 gigabit of internet, you can think of it as a normal cable modem connection in an urban area would be 100 megabits,” he explained. “One gigabit is 1,000 – so 10 times faster than a cable modem. What does that really mean for the household? Again, work from home, school from home, stream video, connect everything in the house that they would want to.

I believe the rural households have the same needs as urban [households],” Moore continued, adding that telephone services will also be offered as part of the Highline project. “It’s a full suite of that kind of internet connectivity.”

Sullivan noted that the newly-passed infrastructure bill from Congress allots $65 billion for internet connectivity.

“We’re pleased that this is moving forward and the president is poised to sign this next week,” she said. “This is a real opportunity.”

Sullivan added that $14.2 billion set aside for what used to be called the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which is now renamed to the Affordable Connectivity Program, which will help subsidize the cost of internet going forward. One small step back is that it went from $50 per household to $30 per household. We understand that the tribal benefit does remain at the $75 level.

These subsidies, if you qualify … are available to any internet plan,” Sullivan added. “In Highline’s case, it’s very simple for us because we have one plan at one price, $99, and that includes the router.”

Paul Walker, board chairperson, asked whether Highline would also be available in Manistique, as the company’s price would be more appealing to some residents.

Moore explained that their service will initially be available to households in rural areas of Schoolcraft County, but that expanding service to the city of Manistique, which already has access to internet services, is a possibility in the future.

“We know that this project will bring population back to the U.P.,” Moore said. “In a small way, but it will be significant over time.”

He added that the project is slated for 2022, 2023, and 2024.

“We anticipate Schoolcraft County to be 2023,” Moore said. “We can build about 1,500 miles a year. The only thing that stops us is the weather.”