LANSING — In conjunction with new broadband legislation, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) introduced its LinkMichigan initiative to address the critical need for high-speed telecommunications access throughout the state.
Since its launch in May 2001 the initiative has been gaining speed and spreading throughout the state, as intended. And as it spreads, parallels develop with Engler’s plan.
In partnership with several public and private organizations, the initiative was introduced to transform Michigan telecommunications infrastructure into one of the most robust and advanced in the nation.
“In today’s business environment, high-speed telecommunications service is becoming a necessity, not a luxury, for both the private and public sector,” said David Brandon, chairman of the MEDC executive committee. “Michigan has long been a powerhouse in economic development. However, if the issue of greater telecommunications access isn’t addressed, the state could lose its leadership role. The LinkMichigan report offers insightful and important recommendations to facilitate the further development of Michigan’s telecommunications capabilities.”
The executive committee identified several telecommunications infrastructure issues or concerns that were increasingly facing the public and private sector. Some of those issues include:
**Dissatisfaction with broadband or bandwidth availability in the state.
**Lack of an adequate infrastructure backbone in many regions of the state to carry fast-speed broadband traffic.
**Little or no information on availability and accessibility of telecommunications infrastructure.
**Lack of understanding by many communities as to the importance of developing telecommunications infrastructure in their region.
“Access to high-speed telecommunications is an important component of ensuring the healthy economic future of Michigan’s communities,” said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of the MEDC. “This is an important step forward for these regions and for Michigan as a whole.”
Many of these concerns were echoed in the governor’s plan and together the two worked to establish what the MEDC hopes will “facilitate investments that help provide the most robust telecommunications infrastructure in the nation.”
Engler’s high-speed Internet plan seeks to create a statewide financing authority to help fund broadband rollout, establish tax credits for firms that invest in new broadband infrastructure and establish a one-stop statewide right-of-way authority.
Together, LinkMichigan and Engler’s plan will mean an additional 500,000 jobs over the next decade and a $440 billion boost to the state’s economy.
Along the way LinkMichigan has added to its services, including contracting with Merit Network Inc. to conduct the LinkMichigan community planning assistance program. Merit is a nonprofit organization governed by Michigan’s public universities and will work in partnership with the Department of Telecommunications at Michigan State University. The program provides funding to communities to help them develop innovative “last mile” high-speed telecommunications plans.
“The formation of this partnership shows that the LinkMichigan plan continues to develop from a vision to reality,” said Rothwell. “This partnership will provide qualified consultation to local leaders throughout the state looking to develop unique strategies to make high-speed telecommunications more widely available in their communities.”
The MEDC also has established some expectations for local governments interested in applying for planning grants. Higher funding consideration will be given to those projects that demonstrate strong local commitment, such as providing high levels of local matching funds; involve more than one government jurisdiction, such as regional and or multi-county projects; show partnership and collaboration among multiple community sectors including government, business, educational, health and professional groups; and display an organized and thoughtful approach with concise, articulated and clearly defined needs, purposes, objectives, activities and outcomes.
Most recently the initiative announced that two Community Development Block Grants totaling $112,500 have been offered to Huron County, representing a partnership of “thumb” region counties, and Cass County. The funding will be used to launch regional telecommunications planning projects to develop local strategies for improving telecommunications services as part of the LinkMichigan initiative.
“Together with the governor’s broadband plan, we see LinkMichigan working to provide high-speed Internet access to everyone in Michigan that wants it,” said Jeff Kaczmarek of the Michigan Virtual University. “That is a huge step but we are willing to work together to provide the state of Michigan the kind of support it deserves.”