Local members of the committee charged with developing public/private partnerships expanding broadband access in underserved areas across Midland County will continue sharing ideas with township officials and local providers through the month of March and possibly into April, says one member who has seen it grow for the past four-plus years.
Tina Lynch has served as the chair of the MCIC.
Members of the Midland County Internet Connectivity committee (MCIC) will help local residents learn about what is available in affordable, high speed access through a new program that began in January this year, says Tina Lynch, a staff member of the Midland Business Alliance. She was appointed director of county Broadband Initiatives in 2021 when the Midland County Board of Commissioners approved sending $250,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to the MBA to support broadband connectivity.
Lynch says members of the MCIC “will continue to establish relationships throughout the county to connect providers with users” through the ROBIN program - Realizing Opportunities with Broadband Infrastructure Networks - introduced in early 2022 as part of the Building Michigan Together Program announced by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It includes $250.6 million to expand high-speed internet service to unserved and underserved locations in the state.
On May 2, a report on the meetings will be presented to the Midland County Board of Commissioners. The committee is a collaboration between the Midland Business Alliance, Midland Area Community Foundation, Midland County, Dow, Midland County ESA, and other community representatives. In October, the federal government OK’d a plan that allowed the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office to begin accepting ROBIN grant applications in January 2023. All program funds must be spent by the end of the 2026 calendar year.
“It’s exciting,” Lynch tells Catalyst Midland. “There is more federal funding available through the ROBIN program to expand internet access and several internet providers are targeting Midland County so that’s great news!
In addition, Lynch says grants for the infrastructure in low-density areas coupled with a requirement that grantees participate in the Federal Communications Commission Affordable Connectivity Program (AFP) should give residents low-cost access to the internet for learning shopping, health information, scheduling, etc. in areas where an internet provider’s return on investment is lower than in more developed areas.
The MCIC notes that high-speed internet access is more important to our community than ever as virtual work, learning and telemedicine have become more commonplace and it’s crucial that businesses and residents have affordable access to this essential utility.
The Midland County Internet Connectivity committee was formed in 2019 with the mission to provide high-speed internet in Midland County. The goal is to provide all Midland County households, businesses and schools with access to affordable, quality access. Lynch notes that committee members can work with industry experts to identify high-priority areas and cost-efficient measures to deliver high-speed internet to significant portions of the population helping to close the digital divide.
Lynch says that although the new funding will help amplify MCIC’s message, its goal from the start has been to provide “access to high-speed, reliable, affordable” connectivity.
Lynch will not be on the committee for the next step in improving internet access, because Feb. 28 was her last day after 10 years with the MBA, in roles that included the Broadband Initiative directorship, and work that led to programs such as Midland Blooms, WakeUp! Midland and Global Networking as well as economic and workforce development efforts.
She notes that Tony Stamas will fill her role on the internet effort on an interim basis. Lynch adds since the MCIC is taking a “divide and conquer approach to getting the word out about ROBIN, with different members of the committee attending different township meetings, and taking along people who provide expertise in specific areas “when necessary” to deal with certain problems - such as zoning codes or setbacks or permitting language - to speed up the process, the MBA won’t miss a beat.
ROBIN will be administered by the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI). The funding for ROBIN comes from the Capital Projects Fund (CPF) which is managed by the United States Treasury and is part of the American Rescue Plan Act passed in 2021.
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