By Mike Kruzman /

Livingston County officials are considering a data collection project that will help them gain a firm assessment of high-speed internet needs in all corners of the county.

The Board of Commissioner’s General Government Committee recently met with County Chief Information Officer Kris Tobbe during their recent meeting. Tobbe presented a proposed agreement with Merit Networks for a Citizen Enabled Broadband Data Collection project that will assess the full aspect of the need for broadband service for local residents and businesses.

Tobbe said that Merit has performed similar services in a few other counties, including Washtenaw. Here, they would conduct a survey, reaching out to citizens in a variety of ways such as through social media, the press, and mail. Tobbe said the goal is to gather as much information as possible so they can truly assess the need and where it is most urgent. He added that they know there are pockets of good service, but they don’t have good data to base routes on.

The survey, once started, is expected to take 6 weeks to complete, with Tobbe hoping for participation comparable to the county’s response to the 2020 Census.

Merit’s Keason Sanvordenker was at the meeting and said that once they learn the scope and magnitude of the internet problem in Livingston County, they can then start to address it. There are options in this, such as the government running it as a public utility, but most experts believe public-private partnerships are a better idea in most circumstances. Sanvordenker shared how such a partnership in nearby Lyndon Township has been working. He said their bond assesses roughly $23 per month to homeowners, with residents then paying from $35 to $70 for gigabit internet monthly. Sanvordenker said these prices are substantially under what the private sector is offered and asked residents with an internet provider to compare for themselves. He called it “quite economically feasible” under most circumstances.

The project is estimated to cost no more than $80,559 with contingencies. Should it be given the green light, the county hopes to have the survey out to residents in the fall, with a report coming to the full board by the end of Q1 2022.