Washtenaw County makes progress connecting rural areas to broadband

After launching in 2022, the Washtenaw County Broadband Project is making progress on getting all of the county connected to reliable, high-speed internet, using $14.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

So far, construction has started in Bridgewater and Manchester Townships. Permits from the Washtenaw County Road Commission are in process for Webster, Northfield, and Dexter townships. Freedom Township Hall, near Pleasant Lake in southwest Washtenaw County, has recently been connected to broadband. Homes around Pleasant Lake will be brought online over the coming weeks as testing is completed.

"Every single township in Washtenaw County does not have access to broadband," says Sharon Beeman, Washtenaw County’s District 3 commissioner. "They don't have access to reliable internet service, so that means you can't do telemedicine. You can't go to school online. You can't see your grandkids in Florida online – anything that we just absolutely take for granted today."

The Broadband Project is working with five internet service providers: Comcast, Charter, Midwest Energy and Communications, Washtenaw Fiber Properties, and Mercury Broadband. DCS Technology Design, the firm contracted to oversee the Broadband Project, created an interactive GIS map to allow residents to track progress on the project.

Beeman says the county's broadband task force had already secured grants from the state of Michigan and others to expand broadband, but the ARPA dollars have been instrumental in filling remaining gaps in service.
"Some of these funds are also being used not only for the infrastructure, but to be able to help those who can't afford to either connect the fiber to their home or can't even afford access once the fiber is connected to their home," she says. "So we have some funds set aside specifically for that."
Beeman encourages people to sign up for this opportunity as soon as possible in order to save money. 

Layla McMurtrie is a recent Eastern Michigan University graduate and former editor-in-chief of The Eastern Echo. She has a passion for arts and culture and hopes to tell the stories of underrepresented Michigan residents.

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Brett Sayles.
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