Why is Michigan’s Access so Lacking?
According to the WILMA report, nearly 40% of rural America lacks access to broadband. Connectivity, even via wireless networks, requires access to a backbone fiber-optic network. In Michigan, rough terrain, including forests and dense substrates, makes the deployment of infrastructure—fiber-optic cables—both difficult and costly. Nearly 70% of Michigan is considered rural, which makes the challenge sizable. Wireless technologies are challenged by dense foliage and rolling topography. Low population densities make the economic return on investment problematic for commercial providers. Some rural areas of Michigan house as few as 2 to 20 people per square mile. Often, an organization cannot earn enough revenue to justify the costs of building a fiber connection to rural communities.
The Data Gap
Building a last-mile Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) network is a costly endeavor. The availability of broadband within a region carries significant weight when the federal government and foundations award funding. Current household access data collection has challenges that include the granularity and level of measurement, the use of data (such as FCC Form 477 filings) that was not primarily collected to measure broadband availability, and the overreliance on internet service providers as the major source of the data. FCC measurements are aggregated to the census block level, which often misrepresents the availability of broadband. If one home within a census block has access to broadband, the entire block is counted as served. Some for-profit ISPs that are not rooted in the communities they service have incentives to overrepresent the number of residences they connect.
Future competition will be limited, should an ISP someday achieve positive returns by expanding into a rural community. These challenges can be overcome by collecting on-the-ground, consumer-sourced data, as proposed by the Michigan Moonshot.
Michigan Moonshot Citizen Scientist Data Collection
The Michigan Moonshot data collection process provides accurate, granular connectivity and resident sentiment data, which can be leveraged by municipalities, broadband task forces, county governments and those working to expand connectivity for the purposes of broadband planning and to support grant applications.
Broadband and Student Performance Gap Research Findings Report
A lack of broadband and dependence on cell phones for home Internet is leaving rural Michigan students behind. The Quello Center at Michigan State University partnered with Merit Network and M-Lab to conduct a groundbreaking study that substantiates that a lack of Internet access impedes the development of critical skills needed to competently participate in the digital economy.
Citizen Scientist K-12 Data Collection Pilot Study
Three school districts, representing more than 6,000 students, were chosen as pilots for the Michigan Moonshot broadband data collection project. The findings report titled Broadband and Student Performance Gaps was released in March, 2020.
Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force Data Collection Project
The Michigan Moonshot partnered with the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force to conduct a connectivity data collection project. Results from the survey and speed tests were used to create an accurate, granular broadband map that will contribute to grant application efforts.