In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned off large parts of rural America in a program called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). This program sought to subsidize the buildout costs for high-speed internet in areas of the country that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive for an internet provider to bring service. In December 2020, the FCC announced that a company, that would be later known as Highline, won the auction for Watersmeet Township. Under the terms of the RDOF auction, winning providers have 6 years to complete the buildout in the areas they were awarded. Highline pledged to run fiber optic lines underground to a large part of Watersmeet Township.
Soon after this announcement, the Watersmeet Township Broadband Task Force sought to engage Highline in an effort to move Watersmeet Township to the front of the buildout schedule. In 2021, it appeared that goal was achieved as the Task Force was informed that Watersmeet would be built out in 2022. This exciting news was communicated to the Watersmeet Township residents through various means including the Township website.
Following Highline’s announcement, many Watersmeet Township residents signed up for Highline’s fiber optic service and paid a $25 deposit.
As 2021 turned into 2022, it became evident through the lack of permitting with the Gogebic County Road Commission, that the promise of a 2022 buildout was in jeopardy. The Task Force requested an update from Highline during the 2/16/2022 Watersmeet Township Trustees Regular Meeting. Highline CEO Bruce Moore confirmed that our promised 2022 buildout had been pushed to 2023. The link to the minutes of that meeting is here.
Since the February 2022 board meeting, the Task Force sought to secure Highline’s commitment for a 2023 Watersmeet buildout. To date, we have been unsuccessful. The Task Force also sought to secure a commitment from Highline for ANY buildout timeline within the 6-year requirement window which spans from 2022-2028. We have been unsuccessful. The Task Force asked Highline to provide those that submitted deposits with an update and an avenue to obtain a refund if desired. As of this writing, we are unaware of any communication from Highline to our residents.
At present, our position is that Watersmeet Township will be built out and receive fiber optic internet service some time before the end of 2028, but we don’t know when.
Present Internet Alternatives
For those that still seek highspeed internet without caps, we know of two alternatives-
Northern Michigan University (NMU) provides a cellular based internet service with speeds up to 25 megabits per second (MBPS) with no data caps. The web address for their service is here: NMU EAN. The requirement for their service is good line-of-sight from where their transmitter is on their cell tower to wherever you would site their receiver on your property. A sub-optimal line-of-sight will lower your internet speeds. Currently NMU transmitters are located by Roger’s Bar and in downtown Watersmeet. NMU can assist you in determining the viability of their service at your property. NMU provides modest speeds but at a reasonable monthly rate (approximately $40 per month).
Starlink is another alternative for high-speed internet. Their satellite-based internet has been available to consumers for over a year. On the Cisco Chain, download speeds have been observed varying between 30-200 MBPS. As more satellites are launched (at present there are approximately 1,400 satellites in use) speeds should continue to increase. A requirement for Starlink is an unobstructed view of the northern sky. The Starlink app for your phone can determine if a site is appropriate. It is a system designed to be self-installed. Starlink can be ordered here. While slightly pricy ($599 equipment cost and $110/month for service) it has proven to be very fast and reliable.
As the situation develops with Highline, your Task Force will post updates as appropriate. Should you have any questions, please contact Trustee Yvonne Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watersmeet Broadband Task Force
Yvonne Clark, Trustee