The Broadband bill was recently intro­duced in an attempt to provide acces­sible internet for rural cit­izens. (Photo: Wiki­media)

One road­block keeps Hillsdale res­i­dents from quality internet access: it isn’t yet prof­itable to extend the fiber optic network looping around the city to private homes.

That means city res­i­dents — and those in the sur­rounding town­ships and county — are limited to local providers that struggle to provide reliable, quality internet in a rural area, even though the city of Hillsdale has the infra­structure to access high-speed internet through the fiber network.

The conundrum is threefold: the infra­structure is out­dated in rural areas across Michigan, many com­mu­nities cannot afford to upgrade to the newest tech­nology (like a fiber optic network) to bring high-speed internet to their homes, and the big providers — like Verizon and AT&T — won’t service many of those com­mu­nities because their pop­u­la­tions are so sparsely dis­persed it’s not prof­itable for them.

Thus, many rural res­i­dents struggle to get reliable internet, a concern that state leg­is­lators and the Federal Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mission are working to address.

Michigan House Rep. Donna Lasinski, Ann Arbor-D, intro­duced a bill in January that would allow rural town­ships to levy taxes for the purpose of setting up their own township-run internet ser­vices. Lasinski, who rep­re­sents the 52nd dis­trict, said if under­served com­mu­nities want internet access, then local gov­ern­ments should provide it if private providers won’t. She described her bill as a “private-public part­nership,” because 80 percent of a township’s res­i­dents must vote to tax them­selves to implement the public service.

Lasinski said she authored the bill because there are “entire town­ships” in her dis­trict with no internet access at all.

“The statute already exists to allow town­ships to issue special assessment dis­tricts for improving roads, water, or sewage,” she said. “My bill adds a statute so that town­ships can set up broadband ser­vices so they’re not left behind in the digital age.”

Lasinski’s mission aligns with that of new FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who told a crowd of Cincin­na­tians in Sep­tember that he hopes to reverse this “digital divide.”

“The way I see it, every American who wants high-speed internet access should be able to get it,” Pai said. “Every con­sumer should have affordable choices in a com­pet­itive mar­ket­place.”

But Hillsdale Township, which sur­rounds the city of Hillsdale, told The Col­legian it’s not inter­ested in setting up an internet service for res­i­dents should Lasinski’s bill become law.

“It wouldn’t really be viable for us, it would not be a top pri­ority for us,” said Jackie Sul­livan, township super­visor. “I guess it would depend on if there’s an interest in an area of the township.”

Private busi­nesses and indi­viduals say they’re frus­trated with the lack of dependable broadband options in Hillsdale County.

Hillsdale County res­ident Jeff King must uproot his life and move three hours north because of the lack of reliable internet in the county crippled his ability to run his business. He relo­cated his business AeroData to Holland, Michigan in January and his house is up for sale, but it hasn’t sold yet. He told The Col­legian “half the county is under­served” with regard to decent internet access.

The city has dis­cussed launching a city-run broadband service, but doesn’t have the funds to do it, said Mary Wolfram, Hillsdale Director of Eco­nomic Devel­opment., a private provider with projects in Michigan and Ohio, was able to install the fiber network in Hillsdale with the help of a federal grant — from the Broadband Tech­nology Oppor­tu­nities Program, part of the American Recovery and Rein­vestment Act of 2009 — with the con­dition it be used by private res­i­dents and busi­nesses. While that is’s plan, it “just hasn’t hap­pened yet,” Wolfram said.

“Here’s the inter­esting thing about the free market: you can’t force that company to do it, it has to be prof­itable for them to want to do it,” said Mary Wolfram, Hillsdale director of eco­nomic devel­opment. “So we’re basi­cally waiting for to do it. And they’re doing it alongside all of their other mil­lions of projects in the state of Michigan.”

Mean­while a fiber optic network that is now seven years old loops around the city of Hillsdale and promises more band­width at a faster rate than Frontier, Comcast, or any of the local providers. Until and other more able providers can offer better internet, Lasinski’s idea to allow town­ships to decide to tax them­selves and set up their own service could be a good plan for rural com­mu­nities, said Hillsdale College Pro­fessor of Political Economy Gary Wolfram.

“Someone will be taxed who doesn’t want to, but that solves the free-rider problem,” Gary Wolfram said. “If you tax yourself to bring in the internet, your property values go up, and it incen­tivizes people to move there. I won’t say that’s a stupid thing to do.”


  • Ellsworth_Toohey

    I’ve got some broader com­ments but but before I begin there are a few errors in fact from the civil servant. Essen­tially the city, as it has a habit of doing, got ripped off because of the utter and total lack of business expe­rience from those working for it. I’m not faulting the college here because there is some insti­tu­tional knowledge here that can’t be retained over 3 – 4 years but it’s a safe bet to always fact check a civil ser­vants claims.

    With regards to the ACD involvement. ACD received ~$160,000 from the city of Hillsdale within the last couple years with the promise to city offi­cials, including Ms. Wolfram, to bring fiber to city res­i­dents.

    —“Rose instead found the pro­posed lease, which would provide com­pet­itive high-speed internet ser­vices for city res­i­dents. HBPU would lease for 20 years 48 fiber pairs on a 144-pair fiber cable will install in a loop around the city. At the end of the lease it would buy the fibers for $1.”

    —“This con­tract will be vital to the growth of the city,” said Mayor Scott Ses­sions.

    —“Pending approval of the deal, BPU will install 144 new fiber optic cable pairs to increase band­width for Hillsdale busi­nesses and res­i­dents. Hillsdale Director of Eco­nomic Devel­opment Mary Wolfram said this will enhance Hillsdale’s ability to compete in a global market because the tech­nology is so “cutting edge.””

    —-“Fiber optic high-speed internet will soon be offered to the city of Hillsdale by ACD after two years of prepa­ration.

    —“Hillsdale’s fiber optic network began in November 2014 through a con­tract between ACD and the Hillsdale Board of Public Util­ities.”

    ( said Mary Wolfram, City of Hillsdale Director of Eco­nomic Devel­opment.)

    So if you ever heard the hollow sound of someone falling face down on the con­crete… sounds kinda like a water­melon… that’s what hap­pened here with the ACD deal.

    • Ellsworth_Toohey

      The second oversite has to do with “the Broadband Tech­nology Oppor­tu­nities Program, part of the American Recovery and Rein­vestment Act of 2009” which was part of the Obama bailout and first brought fiber through the county. This is dis­tinctly dif­ferent from the ACD con­tract which had to do with last mile issues. So while related, they shouldn’t be rolled together.

      And once again, our civil servant had a big role here as well.

      (Wolfram stating) —”“I’m in the business of eco­nomic devel­opment, and we are in a key position now to start again. The inter­esting piece of this for me about this fiber con­nec­tivity is that it is almost lit­erally in the exact same location as the rail­roads that were built and con­nected Hillsdale to the rest of the world. It was the infra­structure that put Hillsdale on the map. Here we are 100 or more years later with a new infra­structure and a way to connect to the rest of the world.

      Of course the problem with that railroad analogy, is the rail­roads build sta­tions so goods and ser­vices could use the rail line.… other then a con­nection to Hillsdale College and a couple gov­erment offices, that never occurred here with this bailout money.

      Dealing with “free money” from the gov­erment ulti­mately is no dif­ferent then dealing with any money in a trans­action between a buyer and a seller. Each side it going to try and get the most they can from the other side. I think my 14 year old could drive a harder bargain… and hold the other side to it… then I’ve seen this city do.

  • Ellsworth_Toohey

    OK, now my comment on the story. It’s a good story, please don’t let me earlier cor­rec­tions lead the author to believe oth­erwise (in par­ticular since I was quoted in it 😉 but amoung hyp­o­critical state­ments from gov­erment offi­cials, I’ve found this one one of the most hyp­o­critical I’ve seen in my life…

    —“Here’s the inter­esting thing about the free market: you can’t force that company to do it, it has to be prof­itable for them to want to do it,” said Mary Wolfram, Hillsdale director of eco­nomic devel­opment.”

    A statement I absolutely agree with… until you con­sider just months ago this same party was advo­cating, and suc­ceeded in getting the City of Hillsdale to pur­chase the Keefer House for $400,000+… a hotel from the 1890’s that has sat vacant now well over a decade and the Col­legian esti­mated would require $3 million+ to get into shape. A pur­chase that occurred BEFORE a fea­si­bility study was even con­ducted. And a property the free market had already deter­mined decades earlier had exceeded it eco­nomic use­fulness.

    The thing about Key­nesian eco­nomics and for that matter even socialism, is its about directing resources for a desired result. Opti­mizing the Return On Investment (ROI) is important. Ratholes like the Keefer and other public works projects will not only not gen­erate a ROI, they will be a net neg­ative.… already the case with the Keefer/Dawn since by the city buying them, they have stopped pay taxes.

    As I was quoted in the story, I’ll add some­thing else. When I moved here the city was much more dynamic.… we had younger people involved… go getters like Wes Kelly was the eco­nomic director and business people like Doug Ingles as mayor. Yes, part of the reason I moved my business out was because of lack of high speed internet but the other reason was the real­ization that the town is going no where under the current lead­ership. They have some fantasy that low income housing, service and retail will turn things around… and frankly are so clueless it’s comical.

    High tech busi­nesses.… what mine is , is such a lost oppor­tunity. We don’t need the things the area lacks… like highways. And being able to offer things to our employees… like affordable house and things we all want… space in a rural area.. is quite a tool for employee recruiting. Lit­erally for the kind of bonuses I’ve paid out and earlier received as a tech employee… would buy a small home in hillsdale or make a sub­stantial down payment on a palace. Instead of paying a new engineer $85/K a year, I can pay him $75K and give him free rent on a house in Hillsdale.… which he/she will own after 5 years. That’s just incredible.

    Yet none of the central planners at City Hall get it. You’ve got a goldmine in front of you yet all the effort is being directed towards Lattes & Craft beer.

    Bottom line, you are an hour away from the tech com­munity in Ann Arbor.… this is a no brainer. I love the area but the par­a­sites that have latched on in the last 10 years are destroying your town. I hope for the sake of the com­munity more business people (if any are left?) can get involved and com­petent people can once again serve Hillsdale.

    • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

      In the last year, Amazon built a regional dat­a­center, just 70 miles down US 127. Then they paid to have a 100MW wind farm built, and bought 100% of the output to feed that data center. Yet the city now owns a defunct theater and hotel. Amazon pays very well, ~80 – 90k for dat­a­center techs, that’s double the county average household income. You want a rising tide, you have to bring folks in that are above the average, and then treat them like it’s ok that they are above that average. You can’t treat them like the college folks, they can, and did work else­where, and can leave just as quick, probably for a good bit more money.

      I’m also in tech, and the dif­ference in housing prices basi­cally we sold and bought about the same price, but it put us in a house in Hillsdale that would have been 1.5M+ where we were last, and I’ve got a lower mortgage now than before. What did I give up, 24 hour a day access to essen­tially any­thing, 24 hour food, Wal Mart, Target, Sams, Costco, Home Depot and Lowes on opposite corners of an inter­section. Food from you name a country, I could get to it within 20 minutes. That’s a big objection to overcome, that and income tax really take hits on the social and financial aspects of getting people to Hillsdale. On the flip side, a traffic jam in Hillsdale is being stuck behind someone at a light, and the time through town on 99 is essen­tially the same all day long, except at night when the lights kick over to flashing yellows, pre­vious commute varied from 15 minutes to 1:15 based on time of day.

      On the fiber issue, I’ve repeatedly called to ask about getting it installed, offered to pay for the instal­lation (well the company would pay for it), and after mul­tiple calls, can’t get a response in over a year of trying. Tried Comcast, they quoted 12k to install, when I asked when it would be done, never heard back from them. Anyone from the tech industry con­sid­ering the town will know that internet service is lack­luster, DMCI does what they can, but there isn’t a really tall tower to make use of to get over all the trees, and the fixed LTE is really rolling out slow, and not in Hillsdale to start.

      • Ellsworth_Toohey

        Well said and ironic your comment about Amazon, 10 years ago I brought up what Google was doing in The Dalles Oregon to some city father’s as an example of what could be in Hillsdale, with The Dalles being similar in size and char­acter as Hillsdale, yet they managed to land a huge data center.

        Not my circus, not my monkeys anymore. Whatever is holding this town back, I hope they can work it out. It could be so much more.

        DMCI is making an effort. I wish they would have inter­viewed Dave Cleveland.