Wired Up – Broadband starts to take hold in County

Erich T. Doerr | Review Correspondent

The online world is making its wireless way into Clare County as local governments are making a push to increase the amount of area covered by broadband internet.

The official group leading the push is the Clare Country Broadband Network Group led by chairman Jerry Becker, also Clare County’s emergency management director.

“Our whole goal is to help facilitate broadband expansion and adoption throughout Clare County,” Becker said. “We (originally) all agreed to wait for the cable companies to build out into our rural markets but that probably wasn’t realistically going to happen.”

According to Becker the broadband project has three partners with the county government, the City of Clare and the local RESD which also hosts their meetings once a month. He said the county has the fiber connection that serves as the backbone to the new system.

To spread wireless broadband service Becker said he and the group’s other members decided the best option was wireless because of Clare County’s hilly landscape. To handle the wireless signals he added the group is encouraging the townships to build their own towers and that many are.

“They would own their own vertical real estate that way,” Becker said. “They can choose to do what they want with that real estate.”

Becker said that when the townships construct their own towers they then can lease them out however they see fit. He added originally there was only one company interested in providing services, Alma-based ISP Management owned by Jeff Hall, but since others have also become involved.

“We don’t hold back anybody,” Becker said. “The townships can sign up whoever they want on their own towers.”

According to Becker the way the broadband deal works is that the county charges for the fiber connection but since the townships own their own towers they all have individual deals with ISP Management or other groups. He added in these deals ISP provides the additional equipment and provides the township officials with free service in exchange for being able to offer customer service to others in the area.

“It’s a win-win situation really,” Becker said.

Becker said currently there are 10 broadband towers working in the county with an 11th in Frost Township scheduled to be online in the next 30-45 days. He added a 12th tower in Hatton Township serves as a ‘hop point’ to get the broadband signal to towers in the northern part of the county.

According to Becker the total number of towers needed to cover every Clare resident would be about 30 but he doesn’t think that’s really doable.

“That’s probably not going to happen,” Becker said. “Realistically I see maybe another half a dozen sites before it winds down.”

While the whole county won’t be covered Becker said the large majority of its residents would be. The broadband coverage area continues to expand as he said they are in negotiations with the City of Harrison, Hayes Township, Lincoln Township and Greenwood Township. He added that while the county won’t be able to cover every inch of area there are other groups coming in looking at some of the areas it isn’t, he mentioned one group could be online in the area by next spring.

“(For) what the townships can’t do or isn’t feasible to do there are other factors coming into this,” Becker said.

Becker said the group began its push to spread broadband throughout the county in 2008. He added the project has really taken off in the last 12 months including all of its tower construction. The response from citizens has been good and some are pushing for expansion of the broadband area which Becker says has been achieved in ways such as placing the equipment to create hot spots on anything feasible including cell phone towers, water towers and even silos.

In the future Becker said the broadband adoption push is going to continue to stick to its goals of adoption, expansion and affordability possibly with the assistance of outside funding.

“We’ve got to make sure its affordable and available,” Becker said, noting internet service is a big help for job seekers. “I want to see us working in the direction of more grants for affordable laptops or iPad devices for the affordable service to (our) people (of all ages).”