Federal loans could help Northern Michigan upgrade its fiber optic Internet access

BOYNE CITY – A power cooperative in northern Michigan is well on its way to receiving a multi-million dollar US Department of Agriculture loan that could potentially be used to upgrade their electrical and fiber optic internet distribution infrastructure.

On November 1, US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the USDA will be investing $ 1.4 billion in projects in 21 states to build and improve rural electricity infrastructure – with Boyne City-based Great Lakes Energy for a funding program selected.

Through funding through the Electric Loan Program, the US Department of Agriculture will help build and improve 6,886 miles of power lines to improve reliability in rural areas.

The loans include $ 255.8 million to invest in smart grid infrastructure, which uses digital communication technology to detect and respond to local changes in electricity usage.

“This quarter-billion dollar investment in rural power and communications infrastructure is the most significant improvement Michigan has seen in decades,” said Jason Allen, USDA state director for Michigan. “The benefits will be felt from the Mackinac Strait to our southern border. It really is a turning point for rural Michigan. “

The USDA is offering a $ 188 million loan for Great Lakes Energy to build and improve a 388-mile sales line and connect 4,166 customers. These new miles of conduit include the installation of 1,850 miles of fiber and 6,200 links.

The loan includes funds for installing fiber-based smart grid communications to increase system efficiency.

Great Lakes Energy’s communications and marketing manager Lacey Matthews said the loan is currently being approved by the cooperative’s board of directors.

“Once the loan is approved and completed, we will be able to provide more details,” said Matthews. “It is our intention to use the low-interest funds on a three-year utility work plan to improve our electricity and smart grid infrastructure.

“We hope to use some of the funding to continue expanding our Truestream fiber optic Internet network as we expand access to life-changing Internet services to the rural areas we serve.”

Great Lakes Energy provides approximately 125,447 customers with more than 14,451 miles of electricity in 26 counties around the western and northern Lower Peninsula.

Great Lakes Energy is currently building a fiber optic network called Truestream to provide high-speed internet and unlimited voice services to its members. The service speed starts at 100 megabytes per second and goes up to 1 gigabyte (or 1,000 megabytes) per second.

“I am thrilled that this is progressing and we are so grateful for Great Lakes Energy’s efforts to get into this area,” said Allen.

Allen said the investment could be a really meaningful shift in the types of potential businesses that could be set up in our communities.

“We don’t yet know what other companies will be drawn to this investment,” said Allen. “But if you start reviewing the types of technology-based businesses that might be based in rural areas of Emmet, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Antrim and Kalkaska counties, it could be a really significant change.

“It also gives our students and our youth the opportunity to have access to the world,” said Allen. “When you look at some of our school districts that are challenged and families challenged to get information, this could be an important resource for real students to get a world-class education.”

Matthews said the home installation of Truestream will continue in the Petoskey service area, with 1,233 currently connected to the service.

“We have started construction for the northern Emmet County region and plan to begin home installations for these members in 2020,” said Matthews.

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