Funding for local broadband/technology projects can be difficult to acquire as these topics do not typically fall into traditional funding streams or models. Community teams should consider non-traditional and creative means to fund the projects and programs identified by the broadband team. The following provides funding resources, guides, and examples of funding for broadband/technology projects.
United States Department of Agriculture Broadband Programs: https://www.usda.gov/broadband.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration Guide to Federal Broadband Funding: https://www2.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia_guidetofedfunding_062317.pdf
Michigan State University Libraries Guide to Grant Funding for Non-Profits: http://staff.lib.msu.edu/harris23/grants/2sgalpha.htm
Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas Framework for Meeting Community Reinvestment Act Obligation for Closing the Digital Divide: https://www.dallasfed.org/-/media/Documents/cd/pubs/digitaldivide.pdf?la=en
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Rural Development Fund Grant Program: https://www.michigan.gov/mdard/0,4610,7-125-1570_51684_78392—,00.html
Western Washtenaw County, Michigan
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Though residents in a sparsely populated area may express interest in faster speeds or more affordable access, hundreds of homes spread over thousands of miles in rural areas present a problem for ISPs—too much space between too few people. ISPs cannot justify the investment with such a limited return. A non-profit group driven by citizens of rural Washtenaw County and Jackson County in Michigan are working to change this model and bring the power of broadband infrastructure back to the citizens.
The Michigan Broadband Cooperative (MBC) is a grassroots, non-profit organization working to expand broadband access and options in Washtenaw and Jackson counties by focusing the needs and voices of residents. With the ultimate goal of installing a fiber network in the area, the current objectives are garnering residents’ support, expanding coverage and gathering data, and making a plan for the further development of the network.
“We conducted surveys with Connect Michigan and the net result was that 92% of households in our area want more choices for our Internet service providers,” said Ben Fineman, President of MBC. Though many residents in metropolitan areas like the cities of Jackson and Ann Arbor have multiple options, coverage drops off significantly in less densely populated areas.
“We came to the conclusion that commercial carriers and the incumbent ISPs were not going to solve our problem. If we, the residents, wanted to have broadband, we needed to take matters in to our own hands,” said Fineman.
With assistance from MBC, in 2017, Lyndon Township residents in Washtenaw County passed a $7 million bond proposal to fund construction of a community-owned fiber optic network serving every home in the township.
MBC will not act as an ISP. With a fiber network installed in the area, the people would control access. “We would open up the fiber network using an open access network model to any ISP,” Fineman explained. “It is not the case where we’re looking to compete with or edge out existing carriers. We’re looking to make the investment and provide fundamental infrastructure to create a level playing for all the ISPs.”