Southwest Michigan Broadband Initiative

Access to broadband is critical for a functioning 21st century economy. Families need the internet to access essential services, including education and health care, and businesses need it to improve their operations. This became starkly apparent as the coronavirus pandemic deepened Americans’ reliance on the internet.

Rural broadband is vital to ensuring our rural areas can continue to thrive. While portions of the Southwest Michigan region currently have some form of high-speed internet available, there are still significant barriers preventing widespread adoption and the utilization of broadband to its fullest potential. Identifying these barriers and developing policies and initiatives to remove them will help make southwest Michigan a more connected and more prosperous place.

The broadband ecosystem is currently in a state of rapid change.  Federal and state incentives and funding are evolving and SWMPC is staying connected to this evolving landscape of opportunities and is actively involved in working with federal, state and local government entities, along with technology solution providers, to help ensure that gaps in rural broadband access are eliminated in the region in the most efficient and cost-effective means possible.

Project Description

At all levels of government, COVID showed us that we have a need for universal access to broadband internet. Consequently, in 2022, unprecedented levels of public funding began to emerge to solve for gaps in broadband. SWMPC recognized the generational impact involved. We maintained a high level of engagement with partners at the local, state, and national level to ensure that we remained a resource for local action. By remaining engaged, SWMPC became aware of the opportunity to be the Broadband Navigator for the region with support from the Michigan Strategic Fund. A letter of intent was signed to that effect in October. 

For Southwest Michigan, broadband provision historically happened almost exclusively using private infrastructure, by private providers. Suddenly, local and county governments were asked to influence local change in this ecosystem through this once-in-a-generation public assistance to fill broadband gaps. To help clarify this opportunity for our units of government, SWMPC developed a broadband roadmap to assist them in their broadband journeys. 

SWMPC has taken steps to be a mapping resource for broadband infrastructure for the long term. We added the most detailed household coverage maps available for two of our three counties (Van Buren and Berrien). Those maps have been instrumental in addressing inaccuracies in the data used by the Federal Communications Commission to determine whether households are considered served by broadband. Additionally, we have portions of our middle-mile infrastructure mapped because of carefully constructed non-disclosure agreements with multiple infrastructure owners.