Merit Network picks rural school districts for ‘Michigan Moonshot’ broadband project

ANN ARBOR—Three intermediate school districts, representing more than 6,000 students, have been chosen as pilots for the Michigan Moonshot broadband data collection project, which is set to begin in May.

More than 360,000 rural homes in Michigan and 27 percent of K-12 students lack access to broadband internet in their homes. This lack of home connectivity creates a “homework gap” between those who can access the Internet to support their schoolwork at home, and those who cannot.

Merit Network Inc., an Ann Arbor-based high-speed connectivity provider to schools, government, and nonprofits, has partnered with Michigan State University’s Quello Center and the Washington, D.C.-based Measurement Lab, on a plan to address the digital divide within our state. Dubbed the “Michigan Moonshot,” the plan includes access and availability data collection, investigation, and community education on infrastructure investment and societal impact.

“Educators have been talking about the ‘digital divide’ for two decades, and while some progress has been made in closing the gap, inequities persist in communities across the country,” said Charlotte Bewersdorff, vice president of marketing and member engagement at Merit Network. “We are excited to partner with high schools throughout Michigan to take the next step in helping underserved communities achieve broadband internet success.’

A consistent challenge nationally is understanding where broadband is currently available, and at what speeds. Data from consumers can improve the accuracy of broadband availability data, and help researchers identify areas where access or speed appears to be under- or over-estimated.

“We are eager to begin leveraging citizen-scientists in the K-12 community to collect granular data on the speed and quality of broadband internet connections to better understand how gaps in Internet access affect the ability of students to succeed in school,” said Johannes Bauer, Quello Chair for Media and Information Policy at MSU. “The Michigan Moonshot is currently pursuing funding for a larger rollout that could include other community stakeholder groups, provided this proof of concept goes well.”

Armed with an accurate picture of Michigan’s connectivity, barriers to broadband network deployment in rural communities could be reduced through a combination of techniques. Efforts to secure one-time funds to supplement network construction costs, the creation of community connectivity task force teams, the deployment of municipal network education initiatives, and seeking planning grants could present viable next steps to address the lack of connectivity in Michigan.

“Merit and our partners in higher education, K-12, and government are determined to do everything we can to ensure no students are left behind in the 21st century economy,” said Merit President and CEO Joe Sawasky. “Michigan is filled with talent in every corner, and we are striving to unleash the full human potential for our great state.”

The Michigan Moonshot data collection pilot project schools are:

Mecosta Osceola ISD: Morley Stanwood Community Schools

St. Clair RESA: Yale Public Schools, Capac Community Schools, Memphis Community Schools, East China School District

Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD: DeTour Area Schools, Pickford Public Schools, St. Ignace Area Schools, Les Cheneaux Community Schools, Moran Township School District, Mackinac Island Public Schools, Bois Blanc Pines School District, Rudyard Area Schools, Sault Ste. Marie Area Schools, Brimley Area Schools, Engadine Consolidated Schools, Tahquamenon Area Schools, Whitefish Township Schools, Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe PSA (Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians), Ojibwe Charter School (Bay Mills Indian Community).

Merit Network Inc. owns and operates America’s longest-running regional research and education network. In 1966, Michigan’s public universities created Merit as a shared resource to help meet their common need for networking assistance. Since its formation, Merit has remained on the forefront of research and education networking expertise and services. Merit provides network, security and community services to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare and other non-profit organizations. More at www.merit.edu/moonshot.

The Quello Center is a multi-disciplinary center within the Department of Media and Information at MSU, but its faculty work in collaboration with faculty from across MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences, the broader university, and associates worldwide. The Quello Center pursues research that questions taken-for-granted assumptions and seeks to collaborate with other centers of excellence in research on the social and economic implications of communication, media, and information technologies of our digital age and the policy and management issues raised by these developments. More at http://quello.msu.edu/.

Measurement Lab (M-Lab) is the largest open internet measurement platform in the world, hosting internet-scale measurement experiments and releasing all data into the public domain. Since 2008, M-Lab has worked in the public interest to measure internet performance around the world and share data openly, aiming to advance Internet research and to empower consumers with useful information about their Internet performance. By providing free, open Internet measurement data, researchers, regulators, advocacy groups, and the general public can get a better sense of how the Internet is working for them, and how to maintain and improve it for the future. More at https://www.measurementlab.net/.

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