Ottawa County, Michigan Strikes $25 Million Partnership With 123Net

Ottawa County MI logo

Ottawa County, Michigan officials say they’ve struck a new public private partnership (PPP) with 123Net on a $25 million fiber deployment that aims to bring more uniform – and affordable – broadband access to Michigan’s seventh largest county by population.

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners voted last month to approve a master agreement and letter of intent with 123Net.

The finalized agreement calls for 123Net to spend two years deploying 400 miles of new fiber infrastructure as part of an open access, carrier neutral fiber network to bring new competition – and affordable fiber – to 10,000 county residents and businesses.

The $25 million network will be funded by $14 million from Michigan’s Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks (ROBIN) grant program; $7.5 million from Ottawa County’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, and $3.5 million in private funding from 123NET.

“We’re at an interesting time in broadband deployment as there are a number of unique funding programs that counties and municipalities can access,” said Chuck Irvin, Executive Vice President of 123NET, said in a statement. “123NET is proud to be part of this exciting project.”

At the same time, county officials say they’ve struck a separate deal with Tilson Technology to build new wireless towers to deliver fixed wireless service to an undetermined number of rural county residents for whom deploying fiber is cost prohibitive.

Ottawa County MI map

A county survey conducted in 2022 found that 10.5% of county residents had no access whatsoever to either fixed or wireless broadband service. The same study found that 26 percent of county residents had access to broadband services well below the FCC’s already dated minimum definition; 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream, 3 Mbps upstream.

The survey also found that just 15 percent of county residents had access to speeds of 100 Mbps downstream, 20 Mbps upstream–the new standard the FCC is considering adopting. Overall, just 40 percent of county residents said they were content with their existing broadband service, with the biggest complaints being slow speeds and high prices.

The county says it was forced to conduct its own broadband availability study after it found that FCC broadband mapping, long considered notoriously unreliable despite years of complaints, dramatically overstated broadband availability and speeds county wide. The FCC also refuses to collect and share pricing data that could help illustrate localized market failure.

“Honestly, I’m incredibly proud of the years of work, collaboration, and support that has been required to move this critical infrastructure project forward,” Paul Sachs, director of the Ottawa County Department of Strategic Impact said in a statement. “This infrastructure will give our residents, business owners, farmers, students and others the access needed to continue to lead Michigan’s growth and development in the modern digital age.”

Inline map of Ottawa County courtesty of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution 4.0 International