Broadband and internet hot spots in Sylvan Township

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A new hot spot and potential grant funding to help address broadband needs. 

The Jan. 5 meeting of the Sylvan Township Board saw two new developments in the way of helping some in the community get an internet connection or a better one.

Meeting virtually over Zoom, the Sylvan Township Board approved an agreement with Washtenaw County and its Broadband Task Force to have a free Wi-Fi hot spot located at the township hall parking lot. The grant would give township residents another option for public access to an internet connection.

Like many areas in western Washtenaw County, parts of Sylvan Township are in need of broadband or better internet access.

There is a hot spot in the township parking lot right now, but according to the county’s proposal, this new one would be bigger. Although the county task force knows this is not a permanent type of solution, it is one that could help address some short-term needs.

Gary Munce, who spoke on behalf of the county's broadband task force, started out by talking Wi-Fi and parking lots. He said the county’s broadband task force identified 15 western Washtenaw County township parking lots that didn’t have any public Wi-Fi available. 

This led the task force to help fund, up to this point, hot spots for 8 of the 15 lots identified.

Munce said typically a smaller hot spot device can serve 4 to 5 people within a short distance. He said the county task force’s proposal for Sylvan will look to increase the potential number of users and the distance.

He said the new hot spot could have up to 60 users and a larger coverage/radius area of 400 to 600 feet.

So in comparison to what the township lot currently has, Munce summed it up by saying the new additional hot spot would offer a greater coverage area to more simultaneous users.

With the agreement, the township will need to initially cover the costs of the equipment and installation, and then the county broadband task force will reimburse those costs upon completion. The grant would cover up to $1,000 for equipment and up to $500 for installation.

The second development is the potential of getting some help to areas of the township needing broadband coverage. This might come from a Federal Communications Commission grant program.

Sylvan officials said it’s been announced a FCC grant was awarded to the NRTC (National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative) Consortium. NRTC's grant proposal would cover some areas of the township.

According to the recent report from the township broadband committee, the parts of the township that could benefit from this grant include areas south of I-94, south of Cavanaugh Lake Road, west of Mushbach and east of M-52.

Township broadband committee member Patrick Zieske said this is major development, but they do have some important questions and want to know more about the details as to what this grant can do. 

One question is will the grant fund broadband installation or just its operational costs? If not installation then that would have to be paid for in another way to get the help of operational costs.

Zieske said this development also might require the township’s broadband committee to rethink its mission and goals. That committee has been exploring solutions to address township-wide broadband needs, not just in some areas. 

This FCC grant would help some areas, but not all. So the question then is how to help those remaining parts without broadband.

It was concluded that township officials and broadband committee members will seek out more information before considering next steps. The broadband committee might want to meet with the NRTC to get a better idea.

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