Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 4, 2013

Leelanau looks for more Internet options

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — SUTTONS BAY — Annette Kendziorski knows first-hand the pitfalls of being without high-speed Internet service in Leelanau County.

Kendziorski and her husband, Pat, have tried to sell their Cedar-area home since April 2012, but more than one buyer decided to look elsewhere because their Hillside Meadows neighborhood lacked high-speed Internet, she said.

“We actually had a written deal contingent on whether we could get high-speed Internet service,” Kendziorski said. The deal eventually fell through they couldn’t obtain high-speed service.

On April 8 the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners will consider frustrations voiced by the Kendziorskis and other county residents when they begin hearing presentations from Internet service providers on what it will take to get more high-speed Internet service. County Administrator Chet Janik said the issue is important for county residents, both for quality of life and economic development.

“It is a hit-or-miss all over the county,” Janik said. “It’s a changing world. We have more and more people coming here and working from their homes. It’s part of everyone’s daily life. We’ve received several letters and comments from people about it.”

The county traveled this virtual road before. In 2009, consultant Rob Franzo gave a detailed report to commissioners on Internet services, finding a “digital divide” in the county. Franzo’s report stated the east side of the peninsula and townships of Elmwood, Bingham, Suttons Bay and Leelanau had more options for broadband rate service, while the south central and western portion of the peninsula have fewer or no options for broadband rate service.

At the time, the report said providers such as AT&T, CenturyTel and Charter were not investing in their Leelanau County infrastructure. Kendziorski said Charter cables are near her neighborhood, but when they checked with the cable company, they were told it would cost $100,000 to get the service to homes in the area.

“We can’t get high-speed Internet,” Kendziorski said, adding the family now uses what’s known as a mi-fi card from AT&T.

“It’s all right,” she said. “It’s spotty at times. You can’t do anything fast.”

The village of Empire secured wi-fi through much of the village in June 2011 through a Grand Vision grant and the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. The service includes the village’s commercial corridor, including West Front Street between South Lake Street and West Empire Highway, south from Wilce Street and Niagara Street north. The service district includes the Village Park along Lake Michigan Drive, and the west loop of Niagara Street.

Service rates include one 15-minute free connection for each 24-hour period, $3 for one day of service, $20 for one week and $30 for 28 days. Revenues go to maintenance and access costs.

Paul Skinner is chairman of the Empire Chamber of Commerce and a shop owner in the village. He said the benefits of having wi-fi in the village are palpable and attracted people to Empire.

“I think it’s important not just to Empire but to all our communities,” Skinner said. “It is like 100 years ago, having access to electricity or a telephone or paved roads.”