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By Sterling McGinn

A major effort to bring broadband internet to every residence with a 9-1-1 address in the Eastern Upper Peninsula has been launched and is well underway.

When it’s complete, it’ll assure quality high-speed internet access for everyone, a benefit that has never before been assured in rural areas of the U.P.

The Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD) has developed the Eastern Upper Peninsula Connect Collaborative to tackle the project, which could make reliable internet access available within the next couple of years.

It has been a broad goal for the EUP for a long time, and for the last several years the EUPISD and the EUP Regional Planning and Development Commission have been collaborating on the massive undertaking.

Along with a quality broadband network infrastructure, the collaborative would provide cyber security protection to all residents, businesses, utilities, governmental units, and institutions.

To get there, the EUP Connect Collaborative is asking each city, township, tribe, hospital, library, and school district to contribute. Entities who agree to participate are asked to donate three percent of their share of the American Rescue Plan Act dollars. The money will ultimately fund the collaborative.  The EUPISD will act as the fiscal agent for the money received.

“We’re asking our schools and communities to invest in equity, for our students and citizens,” said EUPISD superintendent Angie McArthur.

McArthur has attended meetings in person at as many of those entities as possible, though it’s been a challenge. Many of them meet at the same time,

The item has been on many local agendas in the last several months, including schools, the Village of Newberry and townships. After reviewing the proposal, the Village of Newberry voted against supporting the initiative at their September meeting.

“If a community opts to not be a member of the collaborative, there will be missed opportunities, in grants and future projects,” McArthur said. “A major focus of the EUP Connect Collaborative is to determine what areas are not being served currently, what areas will be served by the [Rural Digital Opportunity Fund] grant, and what future investment needs to occur to bring access to broadband.”

So far in this area, McMillan Township, Hendricks Township, Newton Township, Whitefish Township, Engadine Consolidated Schools, and Whitefish Township Schools, have voted to participate in the collaborative.  Many other school districts and townships in the EUP have also agreed to join the collaborative. The full list is available at eupschools.org/eupconnect.

Tahquamenon Area Schools has begun discussing the collaborative effort, but trustees on the Board of Education have not yet determined if they will vote in favor of it.

Meanwhile, the process of bringing a one-gig fiber network to the EUP is already in the works. The Atlantic Engineering Group was awarded a $37 million contract to lay fiber across the EUP.

Nearly 1,500 miles of fiber will be laid along the roadway, and will connect to the driveways of EUP residents. That project will begin next summer.

The project is slated to be completed by 2025. Upon completion, fixed broadband will be available to every 9-1-1 service address, and a 25/3 Mbps minimum mobile broadband coverage will service all geographic square miles in each of the three counties.

It’s an undertaking that couldn’t happen alone, and has wide scale benefits. It’ll pay dividends in all facets of the community, including in business, some community leaders insist.

“Partnerships are necessary to draw investments into our communities,” said Jason Kronemeyer, director of technology for the EUPISD.