Thanks to a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to Ann Arbor SPARK
, 20 miles of underground fiber optic cable will be built between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti's downtowns. An additional $600,000 from the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County will help bring the project to fruition.
Ann Arbor SPARK Senior Vice President Phil Santer says the initiative, called The Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Corridor Fiber Optic Backbone project, will help to support local technology companies, businesses, and residents along that corridor between the two cities. He explains that the project will extend existing infrastructure to allow internet providers to actually provide service.
"We are quite literally laying down the groundwork for something that has been in the works for a while," Santer says. "The funding will not be enough for us to provide service, but just creating that infrastructure could lead to better rates and service once a provider can get in there."
The project is about a year in the making and is in part a response to awareness that there is a need for many county residents to have stronger and more accessible internet connections. Santer points to research from the University of Chicago
that was released near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic experts assessed different metropolitan areas around the country and ranked them based on how well prepared they were for residents to work from home. While Ann Arbor ranked high on the list, Santer is adamant that more must be done.
"What our data sometimes shows is, when you start peeling back the onion, there are certain parts of our community and some residents that are not really well-served," he says. "We have a zone from downtown Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township ending out at the American Center for Mobility that can benefit. It's not that there isn't broadband there already. There just needs to be another avenue to be able to be connected."
Currently, SPARK is still finalizing the grant through the EDA, at which point SPARK will work with the city of Ann Arbor to determine a bidding process for who will run the fiber optic cable. It's expected that the project will be done in 2022.
"The thing that we learned during the pandemic is how important high-speed internet is for everyone to be productive in their lives," Santer says. "I'm excited at being involved in one step of the process that will provide more opportunity for more parts of our community."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.