By Mike Kruzman /

Livingston County officials are pursuing a grant that could help residents in rural areas gain access to high-speed internet.

At the Board of Commissioners General Government and Health and Human Services Committee meeting this week, IT Director Kristopher Tobbe discussed a plan that could allow residents in rural portions of the county a chance to connect to fiber-optic internet. Tobbe and County Administrator Nathan Burd have put together a proposal for a Community Project Funding Program grant as presented recently by Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin. Slotkin asked leaders from the 3 counties she serves to bring their plans, with 10 to be selected and go forward, potentially being awarded an amount of federal funding up to $12-million.

With a short turn-around time for submission, Tobbe said they put the pedal to the metal. The resolution he and Burd came up with equates to being something like a trunk line or water main for the whisker-thin fiber cables. This utility-like project would go out to the townships, particularly the more rural ones, and then over time residents could connect in. Tobbe said this is not a county-wide broadband initiative, but rather a loop to those harder to reach areas.

When asked, the IT Director said it would be Board’s decision on whether they wanted to become a public utility for broadband. He added that there are models in the state where public-private internet partnerships have been very successful, pointing to nearby Lyndon Township to the south. As for where the county would hook the fiber up, there is a major thoroughfare running along I-96 that could be an option. As for getting it to homes, much of that would depend on topography. Rough numbers from the county’s provider estimate it would cost $35,000 to $60,000 per mile, based on labor, materials, and construction style.

Committee Chair Mitchell Zajac stated that they are significantly decreasing their opportunity to provide broadband access to the county if they don’t take advantage of this opportunity. He said using the federal government’s resources makes sense for filling this very real need for rural residents.

A resolution in support of applying for the grant was passed unanimously Wednesday morning by the county’s Finance Committee and then the full Board.