County–wide broadband coming?

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

A new technology may be the answer to Morgan County’s broadband problems. The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) is considering collaborating with Mach3 Technologies to establish countywide access to broadband service through “the latest radio technology” called eLTE (enterprise Long Term Evolution).

The BOC listened to a presentation by Nate Griffin, vice president of the Southeast Region for Mach3 Technologies, who proposed a partnership with county, in which his company would make use of the existing infrastructure, including water towers and radio towers, in the county to install eLTE technology. Mach3 Technologies is also trying

“This arrangement would benefit everyone,” said Griffin. “We would take all the risk in funding the installation and the county would not be on the hook for anything.”

According to Griffin, eLTE technology is ideal for connecting a rural county like Morgan County to broadband service.

“This technology is more widely accepted in other parts of the world, but in the U.S., we have typically relied upon on fiber and copper structures, which is exactly why Morgan County doesn’t have broadband access now,” explained Griffin. According to Griffin, the traditional technology used in metro areas for broadband would prohibitively expensive to do in a county like Morgan, upwards of $20 million.

“But we can provide broadband with eLTE technology for just a fraction of that cost, in the range of $1.5 million to $2 million.”

Griffin is hoping Morgan County will be the model for other rural counties across the state and the country. One of the options moving forward in Morgan County is for Mach3 Technologies to secure a lease with the Morgan County School System.

“The school system owned a few television channels. The FCC freed up that spectrum to be used for high-speed data,” said Griffin. “We would be able to cover the entire county easily and efficiently if we went that route.”

The BOC gave Griffin the green light to come back to the next regular meeting to present more information. In the meantime, the BOC plans on doing some research of their own. The University of Northern Michigan is one of the few domestic sites that utilize eLTE technology for broadband service.

“I would like to speak with a contact up there and find out how they like it,” said Commissioner Andy Ainslie. “And I would also like to see a demonstration.”

Griffin’s proposal is tempting for county officials since their inquiry into broadband service hit a dead-end last year.

Morgan County government has hit a dead-end on establishing countywide broadband service. According to Mark Williams, interim county manager, his findings matched with Griffin’s, that it would cost millions of dollars for the county to install “the middle mile of fiber” throughout the county, and even if they did, local and national carriers are still reluctant to complete the “last mile” of fiber necessary for broadband service from the roadway to a house or business. According to Williams, local and national broadband providers do not want to service smaller cities and towns.

“Some of the giant providers, like AT&T, don’t want to invest in laying cable in Morgan County because they say there’s not enough population density to justify the expense,” explained Williams at a BOC meeting in 2016. “If we were install the majority of the fiber necessary, not only would the cost be enormous, but the broadband providers still would not want to run the fiber from the roadway to the consumer because the population density is still not high enough for them to offset their cost. This isn’t just in Morgan County. This is a universal problem in smaller cities.

The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) had deemed countywide broadband service as one of the top priorities during their strategic planning retreat last year. The commissioners noted that, “Community-wide Internet broadbanding is an economic development issue. Everybody needs internet and it sometimes determines where people live and where businesses locate.”

“The general consensus is that broadband is as important as electricity and water in economic development and an increasing factor in the housing market,” reported Willaims. 

When Mach3 Technologies returns before the BOC, they promised to have completed their design and analysis and would be able to report more concrete numbers and estimates.

“We are looking forward to learning more,” said Chairman Donald Harris. ““We want you to continue looking into this.”

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