County plans to get high speed internet to 6,000 households that lack it

By Ralph Echtinaw

Two county commissioners reported solid progress in the effort to provide broadband internet access to an estimated 6,000 Gratiot County households that lack it.

Commissioner John Lemmermann told colleagues (except Jan Bunting, who was absent) that Gratiot County internet service providers should get an $8 million piece of $253 million that will be distributed by state government to Michigan ISPs in about 60 days. (The money comes from the federal government in the form of American Recovery Plan Act funds that state government received.)

Though this “Robin Grant” money goes to ISPs and not the county, Lemmermann said the board of commissioners “can help shape and support the ISP requests.” He called it a “public/private partnership.”

“We would sort of be partnering with the ISP (but) have a lot of leverage over how the ISP would spend the money,” he added.

Lemmermann suggested that Fulton Township is a good place to start laying fiberoptic cable to expand broadband access because an estimated 1,000 of the 6,000 Gratiot County households without broadband access are there. The cost of providing service to those 1,000 households would be something like $2,000 each, Lemmermann said. (For a total of $2 million.)

As for the other 5,000 Gratiot County households without broadband internet, “it’s going to be a puzzle, and it’s going to go forward piece by piece by piece,” Lemmermann said.

Commissioner George Bailey said the Broadband Committee that he and Lemmermann sit on will begin the process of choosing an ISP partner at the next meeting on Dec. 6.

“Let’s foster this to find out what our options are and get somebody in there that can actually do this.”

Commissioner George Bailey

The county will then “throw our (weight) behind whichever one would show the most promise,” Bailey said.

Last August the board of commissioners hired a company called Wideband to advise the county regarding this project.

Wideband personnel helped Lemmermann “understand this last mile of broadband situation and explained how similar it is to rural electrification. They had good track record of getting grants. If we’re going to provide rural broadband throughout the county we’re going to rely heavily on grants.”

Bailey said that many rural children suffered during the Covid pandemic because their internet connectivity was insufficient for the remote learning that government required after it closed the schools.

“Let’s foster this to find out what our options are and get somebody in there that can actually do this,” Bailey said.

A federal broadband grant package is expected to be announced at some point, too, Lemmermann said. And that might provide the rest of the money necessary to get Gratiot County 100 percent connected with broadband internet access. “All we’re doing is trying to position for what we think is coming,” he said.

Tractor purchase

Commissioners approve purchase of a John Deere 3033R compact utility tractor and John Deere 320R Loader from Hutson for $38,428.

The tractor will replace a similar model leased for one year from Ellen’s Equipment of Ithaca that has already been returned. The tractor used before that “was breaking down every time we tried to use it,” Cordes said.

Gratiot County Building Inspector Tony Miller told commissioners that such tractors are in short supply. “These companies are suffering like a lot of companies with supply issues,” he said. “These small tractors are in high demand and hard to locate.”

Mary Moomey reappointed

Commissioners voted unanimously to reappoint Mary Moomey, 76, to the Department of Heath and Human Services board.

“Moomey brings a wealth of knowledge of human services

along with strong connections to our community networks, faith-based community and agencies,” said DHHS Director Alison Morrison in a letter to commissioners. Though retired now, Moomey was a mental health therapist with Gratiot Integrated

Health Services. “Mary is knowledgeable of the funding streams available to support our programming and of the

impact that these services can have to build resilience in families and a stronger community,” Morrison wrote.

New Board of Canvassers member

Commissioners approved the nomination of Susan Hunter, 71, of Alma to replace the late Caroline Ross as the Democrat representative on the county’s board of canvasser.

The board of canvassers is the group that reviews vote totals and certifies elections in Gratiot County. They will be hard at work next week doing that job. 

Gratiot County Democrat Party Chair Christie Freestone recommended Hunter. “Susan Hunter is dependable, intelligent and a person of character. She is prepared to complete Caroline’s term on the Board of Canvassers until Oct. 31, 2023.”

Caroline Ross was a St. Louis resident who died Oct. 23 at age 79.

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