LIVINGSTON COUNTY A Howell-based high-speed Internet provider has been acquired by Surf Internet with plans to expand the service into Livingston County, officials from the two companies said.
Since MiSignal was founded in Howell several years ago, the company has built new underground or pole-mounted fiber optic broadband cable Internet lines, reaching thousands of homes that previously didn’t have the option. They are building more.
Indiana-based Surf Internet, which covers parts of the county with high-speed Internet, has entered into an agreement to acquire MiSignal’s fiber-optic network assets.
MiSignal co-owner Josh Rowe said he and his team will join Surf Internet.
“It’s a great opportunity, because our networks are in line with each other and connected in places,” said Rowe. “Our core values are very aligned.”
Surf Internet CEO Gene Crusie said they plan to expand to thousands more homes in the county, as well as nearby rural communities.
“We’ve been friendly and, I would say, collaborative with (Rowe) and MiSignal for years, and our networks were essentially already connected,” Crusie said. “It was an opportunity to collaborate and go faster.”
Surf Internet plans to invest an additional $20 million in Livingston County over the next three years to expand its fiber-optic network, reaching more than 18,000 rural households, according to a release.
Crusie said it has been beneficial that MiSignal and Surf Internet have successfully partnered with some local municipalities using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to expand Internet access.
The company is also in the running for a federal grant through the Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks program.
Crusie said they have been reviewing a federal grant through the Broadband Equity, Access and Distribution program and expect to know soon how much funding will be awarded to each state.
“It was a good time to join forces,” he said.
Adam Bates is a Fiber and Market Building Manager for Surf Internet in Fowlerville. He said Iosco Township is currently more than 90 percent covered, plus about half of Handy Township and portions of Unadilla and Cohoctah.
He said they expect to complete a plan to expand into Conway Township this year.
MiSignal, meanwhile, has expanded high-speed fiber-optic Internet in Howell and portions of Marion Township, Howell Township and Genoa Township. The network currently passes by 3,200 homes, with more under construction that will increase access by more than 1,400.
Current customer rates will not change
Crusie said Surf Internet will honor MiSignal customers’ current pricing and make Surf Internet packages available.
“Let’s do a lifelong price freeze,” he said.
Rowe said MiSignal also offered a price lock. When MiSignal was founded, she said, one of the main goals was affordability. MiSignal’s price is very close to Surf Internet’s $72 package.
Livingston officials have their own plan to increase high-speed Internet access in the county. They are preparing to replace and expand the county’s fiber-optic Internet “main line,” which will be partially covered by county ARPA funds.
Moreover:Livingston County is organizing funds to expand the Internet “mainline” throughout the county
The upgrade will replace existing fiber, complete a closed loop, and extend to more parts of the county, including rural suburbs, to primarily serve schools, police and fire departments, and municipal buildings.
While the expanded line won’t deliver Internet service directly to homes, it would put broadband Internet within three miles of most residents in the county. Internet service providers could then connect to the main line to provide services to customers.
Bates said he has been in contact with Livingston County IT department head Kristoffer Tobbe, also mayor of Brighton. He and Tobbe “brainstormed a few different ideas for how we can collaborate and leverage each other’s networks,” he said. “It’s too early to tell what that looks like, but it’s up for debate.”
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Surf Internet officials admit that providing Internet to rural homes comes with challenges. Crusie said she found it cost about $6,000-$8,000 per house.
“It’s a long payback, so we’re looking at grants,” he said.
“The houses are far apart,” Bates said. “Rural Michiganders have longer driveways and there isn’t enough housing density or homes per mile to justify a business case. That’s the goal of these grants.”
He likened it to the electrification of rural America in the 1930s.
“The government had to step in and create an act and it brought electricity to rural farms,” he said. “We believe the same thing will happen with fiber optic broadband.”
Contact reporter Jennifer Eberbach at email@example.com.
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