Latest efforts to connect more of rural Michigan to high-speed internet bolstered by $997K grant

What’s happening: Ongoing efforts to bridge the digital divide in Michigan’s underserved rural communities were recently bolstered thanks to a $997,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Grant recipient Merit Network will use the funds to promote the expansion of high-speed internet throughout rural Michigan.

Where it’s going: Merit Network has plans to develop a connectivity and digital equity strategy promoting the expansion of high-speed internet in eight underserved areas in Muskegon, Ogemaw, Roscommon, Saginaw, and Van Buren counties.

Who’s behind it: Based in Ann Arbor, Merit Network was created by Michigan’s public universities as a shared resource for networking assistance in 1966, making it the longest-running regional research and education network in the nation. Merit operates as an independent nonprofit corporation governed by the state’s public universities.

How they’ll do it: Merit will leverage their Digital Opportunities Compass to execute the plan, a framework for digital equity first developed by academic researchers from the Quello Center at Michigan State University, Merit Network, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and the Digital Equity Research Center that launched as a pilot program in 2023. The USDA grant supports work that includes survey activities, educational programs, community planning facilitation, digital skills programming, and infrastructure planning and funding activities.

Why it’s important: “This compass framework serves as a vehicle for community engagement and planning that results in knowledgeable local resources poised to take action with the backing of leadership, community organizations and others,” says Charlotte Bewersdorff, Merit VP of Community Engagement. “The teams that support this work are both DE (Digital Equity) experts, researchers, and practitioners of broadband expansion efforts. Our goal is to serve as an unbiased resource in facilitating multi-stakeholder digital equity planning at the local level.”

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