Michigan companies partner to create 90-mile fiber route connecting Southfield to Lansing

‘Southfield is kind of the connectivity hub of Michigan’

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | Southfield Sun | Published January 25, 2023

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SOUTHFIELD — Three Michigan network companies have partnered to create a 90-mile fiber route from Southfield to Lansing.

The 18-monthlong project aims to provide broadband services to underserved communities using a state-of-the-art fiber optic network. The companies are Southfield-based 123NET, DayStarr Communications in Owosso, and Peninsula Fiber Network, serving both of Michigan’s peninsulas and areas of Wisconsin.

“A lot of people don’t know that Southfield is kind of the connectivity hub of Michigan, and Lansing is the state capital,” 123NET Vice President Chuck Irvin said. “So, it’s a big, important city. I think it ranks maybe something like the sixth largest (Michigan) city in size. So, we’re very happy to connect those two cities. And today, there isn’t a direct fiber route between those two cities. If you wanted to get connectivity to Lansing, you would have to go from Southfield to Ann Arbor, and then over to Jackson and then north to Lansing.”

Irvin explained that there is a growing need for an updated network and that the copper and coax networks that once were sufficient in the early days of the internet are no longer sustainable to accommodate heavy reliance on internet usage.

“Fiber has almost limitless capacity. So, it’s not like, ‘oh, you went to twisted copper, and then that eventually got upgraded to coax and then that fiber’s here, and then something’s around the corner.’ Fiber is the end. The fiber capacity is so great that we likely will never need to upgrade it to something else. So, it’s a solution that should last 50 or 100 years.”

During the pandemic, reliance on dependable broadband services grew as more people began working remotely and students were learning online. The outdated infrastructure has become stressed, and as a response to this, the state of Michigan launched the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office in 2021.

That office was created through Executive Directive 2021-2 with the ambition of providing high-speed internet access to every home, business, institution and community, and ensuring that 95% of Michigan households adopt a permanent home internet connection. More than 212,000 households in Michigan lack access to a high-speed internet connection. An additional 865,000 are facing affordability, adoption or digital literacy issues, making up approximately 31% of Michigan households without affordable and reliable high-speed internet connections.

Michigan’s internet office’s Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks, or ROBIN, grant program, fueled by funding from the federal Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, aims to bring “high-speed internet access to unserved locations such as homes, businesses and institutions without internet service of at least 100/20 Mbps from at least one internet service provider.”

Additionally, the state internet office has developed a Michigan Infrastructure Asset Map to map out the location of high-speed internet infrastructure in all of Michigan’s 83 counties, which will help in obtaining funds and launch a new geospatial platform with the ROBIN program that will support potential applicants for grants.

“The state companies like ours have a goal of getting that access out to more people than anyone else can offer it to,” Jason Bordeaux, the director of sales at Peninsula Fiber Network, said. “It’s not just about getting to the most populated areas. It’s not just about getting to the areas where you can have the most profit because there’s a higher population or whatever other factors may impact that. It’s about making sure that we have 100% of the people in the state of Michigan covered.”

Irvin from 123NET explained that this partnership between the three Michigan-based companies provides them with a deeper understanding and insight that larger companies may not have.

“We have the benefit of knowing where the need is. We intentionally bent and maneuvered this route between Lansing and Southfield through the underserved parts. There are cheaper and faster ways to build this network. But we didn’t want to just get from A to Z; we wanted to make sure that we were passing through areas that actually had need along the way.”

According to data from the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office, there are many advantages to being connected to high-speed internet. Students with high-speed internet access at home maintain an overall grade point average of 3.18, as opposed to the average 2.81 GPA for students without home access and the 2.75 average for students who only have access through their phones. Homes with broadband access can boost a household’s annual income by $1,850 annually. Specifically, small businesses with a website have higher revenue than those without, and farmers with high-speed internet access have an average 6% increase in revenue.

The Michigan High-Speed Internet Office’s data also shows that there are health benefits to having internet access, such as the effective use of telemedicine, which can reduce hospitalizations and health care costs, as well as lower mental health issues such as isolation.

DayStarr President Collin Rose shared a heartwarming story of an elderly woman living in the country without broadband access. Her nephew, who lived in Canada, wanted to get her an iPad so he and his family could FaceTime her, since she was unable to travel, so he reached out to the only service provider in her area, DayStarr.

“We were her only option, and she didn’t know how to do anything with technology. So, we reached out to the local school and lined up a student to help her set up the iPad while we got the internet going. She has since passed away, but in the last years of her life, she was able to spend quality time video-conferencing with her nephew through the work we do. It’s stories like that. That’s why we do what we do.”