The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

NMU representatives explain UP broadband expansion plans


Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe

DON SALO, of Northern Michigan University in Marquette, on Wednesday holds an outdoor receiving device that allows Upper Peninsula residents to receive broadband services. The device costs around $200.


Bessemer - Two weeks ago, Northern Michigan University in Marquette announced it had received a $6.5 million grant to provide educational broadband services to the entire Upper Peninsula.

On Wednesday, the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners learned how the Educational Access Network of NMU will provide Internet services to the western U.P.

Eric Smith and Don Salo of NMU addressed the board and answered questions throughout a 45-minute presentation.

The grant through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation will allow students to access classes from their homes. K-12 school district students will be able to bring their Chromebook laptops home to be connected to the Internet, under the same use restrictions they would have at the school.

Members of the community will also be able to use Internet and other broadband services for $35 a month, with download speeds of 15 down and five up, faster than currently available to many people through other alternatives.

Smith mentioned several times that it's an educational service and said, for example, if there were five or six people in a home and all wanted to watch Netflix offerings on their own televisions, it wouldn't work.

Throughout the U.P., there will be 64 broadband sites where the equipment will be placed, each with a nine-mile radius. Commissioners viewed maps with the nine-mile circle radiuses interconnecting across the peninsula.

Smith said there are some terrain-related reception concerns in the Gogebic County area, such as in Bessemer, which is basically located in a bowl. Bessemer residents are served by Charter Communications for Internet.

The NMU LTE equipment can be placed on existing towers or new towers can be constructed in high-terrain areas, such as water tanks, if needed.

Salo said the 2.6-gigahertz band in which the EAN service operates doesn't conflict with other bands, such as Horizon or AT & T.

Smith said he has been working with Watersmeet Supervisor Mike Rogers on a water tower there and the Chain of Lakes area near Watersmeet would also be a good candidate to locate a site.

He also referred to locations in Marenisco, Wakefield, Bessemer and in Ironwood on Mt. Zion, near the Gogebic Community College campus. He said the high terrain there, near the ski hill, is an ideal spot for the broadband equipment.

The county courthouse presently uses the Merit Internet service, but would be a candidate for the new EAN system.

NMU will need specific information on where individual students live for possible connections. County board member Joe Bonovetz, of Bessemer, said the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region has compiled a lot of that information.

Serving the unserved

Smith said the EAN network will serve remote areas where the other major providers can't afford to do so.

Bonovetz said costs would be too high for AT& T to serve many of the sparsely populated areas.

County board chairman George Peterson, of Watersmeet, said he's pleased to learn NMU is working with U.P. community colleges on providing broadband in the two-yer effort.

For the homeowner, the outdoor device needed to receive broadband services will cost around $200. The cable cord connection to the home is a relatively simple process, but Bonovetz suggested local agencies like Community Action Agency might be able to assist homeowners in getting their systems online.

Two alternative indoor receiving units cost $125 and $70.

There are already around 2,000 EAN broadband devices connected in the eastern U.P., where Salo said this week's devastating storm didn't knock out the outdoor equipment.

The NMU representatives will coordinate efforts to locate broadband sites here with Juliane Giackino, county administrator; Jim Loeper, emergency management director; town supervisors and GCC.

Bonovetz said it will be important that the western U.P. receive its share of the grant money and said it will be an economic boost for the area.

NMU is matching the grant with $3.2 million.


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