EAGLE RIVER – Growing customer demand for high-speed Internet service in Keweenaw County has prompted Pasty.net to take the necessary steps to transition to fiber optic technology. Pasty.NET chief executive Charlie Hopper discussed the matter with Keweenaw County Council at their regular monthly meeting on Wednesday.
Hopper told the council that the area has been targeted with funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and that his company has been in contact with companies involved in extending the fiber optic network west of the Upper Peninsula, including the Keweenaw.
RDOF is an FCC initiative designed to inject billions of dollars into building and operating rural broadband networks. The fund targets rural areas across the country where residents currently lack access to adequate broadband and would roll out broadband to millions of rural Americans.
“We had to decide here to maintain the status quo as it is and continue to serve the people we serve,” Hopper said, “or get some extra bandwidth, because we just had a surge in demand.”
To underscore his point, Hopper told the council that he recently conducted a speed test of the current system at the Keweenaw County Courthouse.
“It’s very clear” he said. “We need a lot of extra bandwidth, with all the increased usage in the summer.”
Adding the courthouse to the fiber network, he said, would increase bandwidth by two megabits to 100.
Hopper said the main question is how to make the transition to fiber and accomplish “the transfer to the people who come.”
In discussing the transition, he said, he discusses how the whole region will transition to fiber optics and what that transition will look like.
Pasty.NET currently provides a significant number of its Keweenaw County customers with 25 megabits per second coverage and preliminary research strongly suggests that this number can be increased to 100, over the air, with wireless.
“I never would have believed, when we started this, that it was even physically possible,” he said.
This continues to be Pasty.NET’s model for providing wireless internet service in the Keweenaw.
“We don’t see that changing” he said, “Just upgrade it and get as much bandwidth out of it as we can, until we do the switch to fiber, and hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.”
Hopper said he was in contact with two groups involved in the plan to bring fiber to the copper country, AEG and ITC.
Atlantic Engineering Group (AEG) is a pioneer and innovator in broadband network deployments, says AEG’s website. AEG designs, builds and manages fiber optic network solutions.
Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. (ITC) is a local telecommunications company focused on bringing high-speed Internet to rural communities in our region. ITC has been serving communities in northeastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota for over 68 years.
Additionally, Hopper has also been in touch with Highline Internet for additional bandwidth at his company’s operations in southern Marquette County, which he says have already connected fiber optics and “They’re heading this way.”
Highline is building a more than 6,000-mile fiber-to-the-home network that leverages federal investments from the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) to provide high-speed Internet access to tens of thousands of Michigan residents.
Highline has already built its fiber network covering 204 miles in Delta County and 87 miles in Sanilac County, according to the March 2, 2022 businesswire.com article.
“Fiber will not reach every home or place in Keweenaw County,” says Hopper, “Their mandate is to reach every property that has at least five homes per mile density, and there are places here that don’t meet that requirement. But to raise the funds for the grant, that’s their goal.
The Highline website says the challenges of population density and geography have long created a disparity in access to internet connectivity in the Upper Peninsula. This digital divide has implications for educational outcomes, economic development, health care, and civic participation, among others. In the wake of a global pandemic, the hardships experienced in these Michigan communities have been felt more keenly than communities currently connected to high-speed broadband services.
“And so, we have to decide” Hopper said, “Are we leading, are we following, or are we getting out of the way, and we’ve decided to gain some extra bandwidth. We are taking, by the end of the month, another gigabit of bandwidth to serve users, especially in this area, and in “this zone,“I mean, this side of Brockway Mountain, up to Five Mile Point Road. The population on this side of the peninsula is really lacking in bandwidth.
Upgrades are underway and equipment will be adjusted and replaced as needed, but increased speed and range are planned for the Keweenaw, says Hopper, “as soon as we can make those upgrades on the tower and increase the additional bandwidth.