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The conundrum is threefold: the infrastructure is outdated in rural areas across Michigan, many communities cannot afford to upgrade to the newest technology (like a fiber optic network) to bring high-speed internet to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.