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Nonprofit Helps Fast Internet Reach Rural Leelanau

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In Northern Michigan, Traverse City functions as the major commercial nexus for a seven-county area totaling 2,700 square miles. Yet residents in Cedar, only a few miles away, found themselves without access to high-speed Internet service until recently.

“After moving just seven miles out of Traverse City last fall there was no question in my mind that some form of high-speed Internet would be available,” said Steven Kostyshyn, a local artist and businessman. “Boy, was I wrong.”

Cable lines fell about a mile short of Kostyshyn and 15 of his neighbors, and the limitations of satellite service kept that from being a viable option. Frustrated and needing Internet access, he went back to dial-up after enjoying broadband in Charlevoix County.

“You can imagine how that drastically altered our lifestyle and impacted our ability to conduct business and make purchases online,” he said.

One day while reading his rural electric cooperative’s magazine, Michigan Country Lines, he came across an article about Connect Michigan, a non-profit commissioned by the state to draw detailed maps of broadband access. He filled out Connect Michigan’s online survey, and wrote a follow-up e-mail explaining his frustration.

“They responded quickly and within a few days had contacted Cherry Capital Connection, a broadband ISP,” Kostyshyn said. “Through Connect Michigan’s communication with CCC we had broadband service a week later. I learned that CCC has been working on getting to our area for some time and was finally able to provide that service.”

Added Cedar resident Deb West: “Finally after three long years we have high-speed wireless rather than slow satellite Internet. Our neighbor, Steve, read an article about Connect Michigan and he called us immediately. We then filled out their online survey. Through Connect Michigan’s communication with Cherry Capital Connection we had broadband sooner than we ever expected. The difference is 100 percent better.”

“From an ISP perspective it is important for us to have a certain comfort level with any organization we share our data with,” said Tim Maylone, general manager of CCC. “Terry Holmes and the folks at Connect Michigan have done a good job at that.”

CCC identified a vital need for high-speed Internet in Cedar and the area had been under service consideration for more than three years. The problem was trying to entice local partners to join them in this effort.

Said Maylone: “When smaller companies propose providing service, government officials and consumers alike tend to ask, ‘Why aren’t the larger telcos doing it?’ We are hoping that through projects like this we can establish a level of legitimacy; that both policymakers and citizens have the opportunity to see that we can make this happen.”

“It’s great to see the Connect Michigan project come full circle,” said Holmes, senior technology assessment consultant for Connected Nation. “One of the many benefits of mapping Michigan’s broadband coverage is the ability to show providers where the unserved homes exist and to provide Michigan residents with a search tool to show providers in the vicinity. This combination resulted in a peripheral provider extending his network to meet demand.”

The first Michigan broadband coverage maps were released in May by Connect Michigan, a partnership between the Michigan Public Service Commission and the national nonprofit Connected Nation.

“Michigan’s broadband mapping effort is starting to pay off,” said Orjiakor Isiogu, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission.  “Customers are using the maps to determine what providers offer service in their areas, and providers are expanding their services to meet the needs of customers in unserved and underserved areas.”

Connect Michigan will continue to update and refine these maps as more data is gathered from consumers to accurately reflect the current broadband landscape. The public plays a key role in verifying the information that is represented on the maps. Michiganders are encouraged to visit the Connect Michigan Web site, http://connectmi.org, to view the maps, take a small survey about broadband service in the area, andr to provide feedback on any issue they feel is relevant to this initiative.

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.

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