We sat down with Megan Martin, the Marketing Coordinator for Merit Network to discuss Michigan’s broadband landscape and the role that the Michigan Moonshot Project plays in helping to educate and advocate for resident connectivity.
NCC: How was Michigan Moonshot formed?
MM: In 2018, Merit’s President and CEO Joe Sawasky was conducting a member-visit in northern Michigan. Along his route he passed a library. It was late in the evening, far outside of typical operating hours, so he was surprised to see that the parking lot was full. The cars were packed with students using the library’s WiFi to complete their homework assignments. Motivated by Merit’s commitment to provide networking, security and community services to members across Michigan, Joe was compelled to take action.
In March of 2018, Merit participated in the Michigan Consortium of Advanced Networks. Joe joined like-minded partners from across the state to develop a broadband roadmap. Interacting within this community provided Merit with the necessary exposure to impact the connectivity landscape. Overwhelming community support inspired Merit to build a community of public/private partners which seeks to assess and address the homework gap in Michigan. This effort was named the Michigan Moonshot.
NCC: 380,000 Michigan homes lack at-home broadband access. Why? Where are some of the most disconnected communities located? What are their challenges?
MM: A great number of unserved households are found in areas defined as rural by the U.S. Census, particularly in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and areas outside of major metropolitan areas and their suburbs. Complicating matters is that the solution is not one-size-fits-all.
In rural areas, improving internet access means surmounting barriers of climate, distance and population density. Installing infrastructure is difficult and costly. In urban areas, the problem is affordability—an end-of-the-month question of “Am I putting food on the table, or am I buying an internet subscription?”That said, infrastructure and affordability challenges exist in ALL areas of Michigan. Many of these fallow areas can also be found in larger urban Michigan communities, such as Detroit.
NCC: What role has Michigan Moonshot played in educating citizens, advocates, and leaders about broadband connectivity?
MM: The Michigan Moonshot is a statewide call to action, led by Merit, which aims to close the digital divide for Michigan communities. This initiative addresses three key pillar areas. Those pillar areas are 1) Data and Mapping 2) Policy and Funding 3) Education and Resources. Our focus is to help communities take action to move past key obstacles, ultimately achieving tangible and measurable success in broadband expansion.
Under the Education & Resources pillar, Merit has developed a robust offering of educational resources, including the Michigan Moonshot Broadband Framework, the Moonshot Marketplace and a broadband-focused webinar series with more than 900 viewers to date.
Under the Policy and Funding pillar, Merit offers information and education to many national groups advocating for policy change which would ease current limitations on broadband expansion and funding opportunities.
What broadband concerns will be addressed at this year’s Member Conference and Broadband Summit?
MM: Topics that will be addressed during this year’s Merit Member Conference and Broadband Summit include access and adoption strategies to increase diversity in digital inclusion, broadband recommendations for state and federal policy makers through the lense of increased needs during the pandemic, and the ways in which citizen scientist data collection can inform and support broadband expansion and grant challenges when needed.