On this episode of Connected Nation, we take you into the heart of Michigan where the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI) recently launched an ambitious 40-stop broadband listening tour.
For the first time on our show, we’re going into the field to hear what residents, business owners. teachers, and other local stakeholders have to say about the impact of being disconnected in America— and what can be done to fix it.
MI Connected Future Tour Schedule - https://www.michigan.gov/leo/bureaus-agencies/mihi/miconnectedfuture/mi-connected-future-tour-schedule
Michigan High-Speed Internet Office - https://www.michigan.gov/leo/bureaus-agencies/mihi
Jessia Denson, Host (00:06):
This is Connect to Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods.
On today's podcast, I take you into the heart of Michigan, where the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office, also known as my High, recently launched an ambitious 40 Stop Broadband listening tour. For the first time on our show, we're going into the field to hear what residents, business owners, teachers, and other local stakeholders have to say about the impact of being disconnected in America and what can be done to fix it. I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation.
I am standing in cold Water Michigan, which is a small town in Michigan. There's snow on the ground. The roads are clear though, cuz Michigan Ganders know how to handle it. I am with Eric Frederick, who's the, give me your official title,
Eric Frederick (01:08):
<laugh> Chief Connectivity Officer for the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office
Jessia Denson, Host (01:12):
And tell us why we are here today.
Eric Frederick (01:14):
Sure. So we are here in Coldwater to as, as part of our, my Connected Future Community Tour. So we're here going AC to 40 cities across the state of Michigan to listen to people about what their connectivity needs are. Do you have internet service available? Do you not? Can you afford it? What do you have devices? Do you know how to use it? We want to hear from the people of Michigan so that we can develop a plan to solve all of these challenges.
Jessia Denson, Host (01:37):
And this is just stop number six or seven, correct. So far. So I understand that you may not have a full picture of the state yet, but tell me some of the things that you're hearing, some of the good and the bad when it comes to internet connectivity.
Eric Frederick (01:49):
So there's these general buckets of issues I'll call 'em. So, you know, the issues of rural availability of infrastructure, simply being there and available. There's issues of affordability and devices, and we're hearing similar things from some communities, but the way they experience those problems are very different from one small town to a suburb to an urban center. They are very different challenges that are being faced by our communities. And that's what we want to hear. We really want to hear what those different challenges are. So while the, the challenges at a high level are relatively similar, each community experiences them differently. And so that's what we really want to see as we go across the state.
Jessia Denson, Host (02:24):
Has there been anything that's surprised you along the way yet?
Eric Frederick (02:28):
Um, not necessarily surprising, but just seeing the, the passion folks have for this topic, especially those that have not been able to get connected. They want it, they know that what they want, they know that they need it, but they simply can't get it there. There's a lot of bent up frustration about that, and we realize that we, we know it has been there for a very long time, <laugh>. Um, but, and that's what we want to, we want to hear that too and make sure that folks know that, you know, the funding that is coming from the federal government to help solve this challenge is coming. And so we need to hear from them, know where they're located and make sure that they're part of that plan to help fully get connected.
Jessia Denson, Host (03:02):
Uh, you've, we've heard a lot of good things about what Michigan is doing when it comes to internet connectivity. You're kind of leading the way in many risk aspects of this issue. Do you see it that way? Um, what are some things that are Michigan is really doing right that you hope other states can follow suit?
Eric Frederick (03:19):
Yeah, sometimes it's a little hard to, to see yourself from the outside when you're so focused on, um, serving the state. Um, but we have, so we've heard that, you know, our large 40 stop community tour is ambitious. Um, and we wanted to do that, um, for a reason. Again, we want to try to hit every corner of the state and even with 40 stops, we know we can't. So, um, we, we still wanna make sure that we're seeing everybody. So the 40 stop tour I think is a lot. And I know that some other states are looking at doing something similar. Now. Uh, the other thing that we've done is infrastructure mapping. So this past summer we had network engineers driving over 65,000 road miles in the state of Michigan to map actual broadband infrastructure locations so that we can use that information to map and, and plan where infrastructure needs to go. But then two, to challenge the FCC map, uh, that came out in November.
Jessia Denson, Host (04:07):
If, when you're done, when all is said and done, what do you hope to really accomplish? What would be the pie in the sky or the cherry on top to make this hard work that you're doing now worth it?
Eric Frederick (04:19):
So the, the overall goal is to create a more digitally equitable Michigan. And that could, that means a lot of different things to different people. But really to get to a digitally equitable Michigan, we need to have universal availability of broadband every home, every business, every institution, every community has to have that access available to them. And on the other side, once it's there, they have to be able to afford it, have a device to connect to it, and then know how to use it. And so those challenges are systemic and pervasive, but at the end of the day, creating that more digital digitally equitable Michigan is what we're striving for.
Jessia Denson, Host (04:52):
All right. Thank you so much, sir.
Eric Frederick (04:53):
Jessia Denson, Host (04:54):
I am here with Patt Williams and Gene Brand, and we are at one of the listening tour tour stops. So, um, pat, tell me why you decided to come up today's, uh, meeting.
Patt Williams (05:05):
Well, one, um, we do not have good internet where we're at. Um, we're on like the only half mile in cold water that has nothing but DC m i that's the only thing offered. And so, um, and it's not the best internet. They try, but it's not the best. Um, and I just wanted to find out what was going on as part of the community. So I wanna know what's happening.
Jessia Denson, Host (05:26):
And what does it mean for you to not have access, explain to someone who may live in a bigger city and may have more access or faster speeds or that type of thing?
Patt Williams (05:35):
Actually, I came from the Detroit area. We've been out here for five years. And when we got ready to retire out here, this one guy said, well, you might wanna check and see if they got internet where you're moving to, because not everybody has it. And I was shocked because, um, I just assumed it was everywhere, you know what I mean? I really did. And so, uh, when we got out here, we found out, yeah, it wasn't
Jessia Denson, Host (05:59):
<laugh>. So, uh, Jean, for you, why did you decide to come? Is it the same reason you're, you're we need access. We don't have it. We don't understand why we don't have it? I
Gene Brand (06:08):
Think, I think, uh, Quincy Township's where I'm representing in, uh, we're pretty well blessed with it all around our township. Uh, we got probably very little, uh, that doesn't have coverage. Uh, and uh, the reason I'm here is our assessor couldn't make it and she thought somebody should be represented. So, uh, I'm here
Jessia Denson, Host (06:31):
<laugh>. And, uh, when I sat down and asked if you two had talked to me, you said, well, we're really not sure about this. We don't quite understand what's going on. Um, part of that will be hopefully some clarity, right?
Gene Brand (06:41):
That's right. Yeah. So, uh, then we can move forward. You know, I, I mean, I, I'm just, I'd be happy to help other townships or anybody I could, uh, to get 'em wired in. They,
Jessia Denson, Host (06:55):
So give, give, uh, our listeners an idea of how far apart these two places are.
Gene Brand (07:02):
Oh, uh, we kind of bordered Coldwater Township a a little bit to the east. So
Patt Williams (07:09):
About 10 miles from Quincy where
Gene Brand (07:11):
You're about, you're about 10 miles from Quincy. Yes. But, but yet just that short amount, different distance makes a huge difference when it comes to connectivity. Yeah.
Jessia Denson, Host (07:21):
So what do you hope to get out of this?
Patt Williams (07:23):
Well now the, the Cold Water City has probably good internet connections because they have different companies.
Jessia Denson, Host (07:31):
Okay. So you give us an understanding of where you are in relation to cold water.
Patt Williams (07:35):
I am out in the country. I'm 40 acres and there is nothing out there. I'm on a half mile that seriously when I've started checking into internet, there is nothing out there. But DC m i it's the only company we could get.
Jessia Denson, Host (07:48):
And like you said earlier, you were came from Detroit where you have access to all this, so you had no, it was kind of a surprise.
Patt Williams (07:53):
Yeah, it was, yeah. Big surprise. Yeah.
Jessia Denson, Host (07:55):
And, and why do you think your township's so wired? Is it just they were pretty forward thinking?
Gene Brand (08:01):
I'm not sure. Uh, it's just that, uh, the charter service that's provided here, they're, they've just hit that area so hard. I think that, uh, it's, it's all around us.
Jessia Denson, Host (08:17):
So we're sitting in a room with, um, it's, it's called the Dearth Community Center. Correct. Am I saying that correct? Uh, and there's, there's pretty, there's a pretty good showing here. Do you think people are really, this is important in their lives and that's why they're here?
Patt Williams (08:31):
I would think so. I think there's probably people that have grandkids or kids that, you know, maybe when, uh, the pandemic went on, their kids didn't have really good access. Um, especially if you live out in the country, you know what I mean? I think it's a, a little more problem out there than it is in the city. So, um, I I'm assuming that's probably why they're such a good showing.
Jessia Denson, Host (08:53):
And are you both lifelong Michiganders? Yes. Yes. Why, why Michigan? Why is, why is Michigan so great? Uh,
Gene Brand (09:02):
I, I just was born here and raised here and gonna stay here. <laugh>.
Jessia Denson, Host (09:08):
Thank you both very much. I appreciate you. So I am standing here after the, my high, uh, listening tour. It's Cold Water Michigan, and I am standing with Audrey. I'm not gonna try to say your last name. I don't wanna butcher it. Tell us, tell our audience what your last name is. Tapin. Tapin. And, um, she's a young woman who took part in several discussion groups and, uh, listened to the pre presentation from the Maha team. Uh, tell us why you came today and what you got out of it.
Audrey Tapenden (09:36):
Sure. Well, I work in economic development, so that deals with a whole range of topics nowadays. It's not just, you know, manufacturing companies, it's really about the quality of life for every individual, whether you, that's from the perspective of a worker or a resident, or someone who, who owns a business. So broadband access and internet access is extremely important to all aspects of our lives. And so I came, came to learn and to, to share my perspective.
Jessia Denson, Host (10:02):
And what did you, what did you learn today and did you feel like there was a lot of similarity in what other people were concerned about with this today?
Audrey Tapenden (10:10):
Hmm, that's a great question. I think concerns really tie into people's individual perspectives, uh, for certainly, um, but broadband and internet access, I think what became clear through this conversation and the conversations that we had is it's, it's a prerequisite and it's necessary to be an active and an equal participant in the economy. Um, whether that's to pursue education, to access jobs, um, and, and to get information, there is a great point made about telehealth opportunities and access to healthcare and rural communities. So access, I think, is came to my mind as the most important topic in making sure that access is affordable to people so that they can use internet and broadband for, um, you know, key services and key opportunities.
Jessia Denson, Host (10:53):
So are you a lifelong Michigan or are you of transplant? Are you from this area or you're not?
Audrey Tapenden (11:01):
I grew up in Coldwater and I have either lived or worked in this area for most of my life. Um,
Jessia Denson, Host (11:08):
You seem a little shy about this question. Okay. So I work
Audrey Tapenden (11:11):
For the city and I do economic development for both the city and a county, but I do technically live in Steuben County, which is Indiana right next door.
Jessia Denson, Host (11:19):
But from Indiana. How far are we
Audrey Tapenden (11:22):
From Indiana? We're about 13 miles.
Jessia Denson, Host (11:23):
Okay. So we're near the border. We're
Audrey Tapenden (11:25):
Incredibly close. And I would say that the topics we talk about today are as present in Steuben County as they are in Branch County or St. Joe, or the other areas that, that, you know, l e o Maha is visiting.
Jessia Denson, Host (11:36):
So if you grew up around, if you grew up Coldwater, tell what would somebody, who'd never been here, what is Coldwater known for? Is it just for being a nice sleepy town or is there something more to it?
Audrey Tapenden (11:47):
Well, our county has over a hundred Lakes and Coldwater itself, you have access to two pretty prominent chains. So it's an interesting spot from that perspective. Um, I think we have incredible recreation facilities. We've been the recipient of generous, um, grant funds from people who have grown up here as well. Dr. Brown has made a significant contribution to our recreation facilities. You'll see his name on key buildings and key places for entertainment. So, um, I think we have, we have a lot of lot going. We're one of the fastest growing communities in Michigan. And so I think a lot of the work that's being done at the local level speaks to that.
Jessia Denson, Host (12:24):
The Michigan High Speed internet office continued its tour moving into Ypsi just a few days later. That's about a 90 minute drive east and in the shadow of Detroit. On our next episode of Connected Nation, I'll take you inside that meeting to find out if those in more urban areas face different connectivity issues, and we'll get the opportunity to sit down with one of the breakout discussion groups as they're asked to tackle the issue of internet accessibility. I am Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connect to nation.org or look for the latest episodes of Connected Nation on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.