By Crystal Hayduk
Residents of Lyndon Township will soon have access to broadband internet service, a practical necessity for modern communication, thanks to an agreement between Chelsea School District (CSD) and Midwest Energy & Communications (MEC) that was unanimously approved at the school board meeting on Nov. 26.
The action item went forward subject to approval through negotiations with Superintendent Julie Helber, who said there were “still a few small items to work out. Once they’re taken care of, we’ll execute the agreement.”
Helber expected the items to be taken care of by press time.
The IRU (Indefeasible Right of Use) and Maintenance Agreement grants MEC the right to use “two strands of dark fiber with unlimited Mbps of capacity” on the district’s fiber system that runs between the administration building and North Creek Elementary School.
According to Scott Wooster, the district’s director of technology, “dark fiber” is unused fiber. He explained: “When in use, laser light is transmitted down the strands of fiber communicating the information. When not in use the fibers are dark. We currently have 12 strands of fiber that run between the buildings. In almost all cases we are only using four of the 12 strands. The rest are dark.”
In exchange for the two strands of fiber, MEC will provide maintenance for all of the district’s fiber optic system. Helber said this will save the district thousands of dollars annually in maintenance, check-ups, and repairs, including damage caused by squirrel chews.
The agreement is for a five-year term, with reassessment at the end of the term.
Since MEC first presented their request to the district on behalf of Lyndon Township at the board meeting on Sept. 10 (related story here), the district’s lawyers have worked to make sure all of the legal rules and regulations related to fiberoptic networks have been covered.
One aspect of this was involvement with the City of Chelsea. “Since our fiber runs on city poles, we needed to make sure the city was part of the agreement process,” said Wooster.
Helber said the city has been very cooperative throughout the process.
“Broadband is the most reliable and effective long-term solution for internet access moving forward,” said Gary Munce, Lyndon Township resident and chair of the public relations and community engagement subcommittee for Lyndon Township Broadband.
“Getting fiber to each home was a grassroots effort that began about five years ago, when the residents wanted to do something about the lack of high-speed internet access. The project has been moving steadily along ever since,” he said.
Residents of Lyndon Township, a rural area located northwest of the city of Chelsea, bordered by Dexter Township to the east, Sylvan Township to the south, and Waterloo Township to the west, approved a millage in August, 2017 to pay for the construction of the fiber network.
Additionally, homeowners will subscribe to service, for an estimated fee of $57-67 per month. (More information is available on the Lyndon Township Broadband website.)
According to Ben Fineman, chair of the ISP/backhaul subcommittee, construction to install broadband is estimated to be completed by the end of 2019. “The first homes may be connected as early as February,” he said. “They are beginning in the southeast corner and moving counter-clockwise.”
Wooster said the agreement is a “win” for everyone involved. MEC will have access to fiber on the other side of the railroad tracks without going through a lengthy permitting process with the railroads. Lyndon Township will have an operational fiber network more quickly than would otherwise be possible. The school district gains contracted monitoring and maintenance of the fiber network that has cost thousands of dollars in repairs over the years.
“Now that will all be covered for the use of two strands of dark fiber we were not using,” said Wooster. “This is also a win for the school district because all of those Lyndon Township citizens who have school children will have access to broadband internet that they didn’t have before.”
At the second opportunity for public input, following the board’s approval of the agreement, Fineman thanked the district for working with MEC. “Forty percent of homes in the Chelsea School District do not have access to broadband,” he said. “This agreement will help take a chunk out of that number.”
“Midwest Energy & Communications is excited to participate in this mutually-beneficial agreement that will help the Chelsea School District and Lyndon Township residents, some of whom are students in Chelsea schools,” said Terry Rubenthaler, MEC’s chief technology officer.