Michigan Network Alliance press release

N E W S R E L E A S E

Subject: Northern ISPs Form Network Alliance
Date: February 15, 2008 For Release: Immediately
Contact: Mark Snyder, President, Charlevoix Wireless Inc., (231) 547-9897
Walter M. Walsh, Nodin Communications, LLC, (906) 630-7999

Northern Michigan High-Speed ISPs Form Unprecedented Partnership

GRAYLING – Seven prominent northern Michigan providers of high-speed Internet service have formed a partnership in an effort to deliver broadband service to rural communities from Saginaw to the Upper Peninsula.  The Michigan Network Alliance was formed to route Internet traffic faster and more efficiently throughout the region with an interconnection agreement that is unprecedented for this part of state.  The partnership includes: Central Solutions, Inc., of Beaver Island; Charlevoix Wireless, Inc.; Cherry Capital Connection, in Elk Rapids; M33 Access (ISP) and Michigan Access (a telephone company), both of Rose City; Nodin Communications, LLC, of Sault Ste. Marie; and SpeedNet, of Saginaw.

The Alliance is distinctly separate from the recently formed Northern Michigan Broadband Cooperative, whose steering committee is exploring ways to expand broadband service in a portion of the region. However, the two groups share many of the same goals, and several of the Alliance companies’ leaders also serve on the cooperative group’s steering committee.

“We fully intend to do all we can to facilitate the goals of the co-op,” said Mark Snyder, president of Charlevoix Wireless, who explained that the ISP Alliance was borne after months of negotiations that included many of the same concerns as the co-op.  “We’re just not sure the proposed co-op will be able to do what it’s setting out to do. And to ignore what we might be able to accomplish collectively is not in the best interests of these seven companies and their shareholders,” Snyder said.  “In order to expedite services, we felt we could move more quickly in fulfilling the needs of our communities than other initiatives under way. A privately run entity is much more fluid than a publicly controlled entity. And we’re already here.”

While the Alliance has a list of its own long- and short-range goals to develop and expand services, the interconnectivity (Internet protocol routing) agreement between the companies will immediately enhance overall capacity of Internet traffic.  “And that capacity can be increased on demand,” said Tim Maylone, founder and general manager of Cherry Capital Connection. “This agreement will make it much more convenient for consumers of our services to interact.”  In other words, he explained, whether you’re conducting point-to-point business from Gaylord to Alpena, whether you’re a grandmother in Mackinac City downloading photos of the grandkids in Saginaw or whether you’re a student in Charlevoix taking an online class from Kirtland Community College in Roscommon, your Internet service is going to be much more efficient.

Glenn Wilson, founder and president of M33 Access and Michigan Access, explained that traffic generated in Northern Michigan and bound for Northern Michigan will stay in Northern Michigan.  “There’s no reason any more to send it anywhere else like Detroit and Chicago and back and suck up a lot of bandwidth in the process,” he said.

The challenge now, the group said, is finding the money to expand high-speed Internet availability throughout the region, much of it sparsely populated. It is exploring potential funding sources through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program and the Federal Communications Commission, both federal agencies offering a variety of grant and loan programs.  “It’s not an issue of whether the ISP’s can do it,” Snyder said. “Of course we can. It’s just a matter of dollars. That’s why we’re concerned about the potential success of this new Cooperative that’s been formed. We’ve already tried to get those monies.”

Among the Alliance’s immediate goals, Maylone said, is “to interconnect our colleges in Roscommon, Alpena, Gaylord, Petoskey, Sault Ste. Marie, Traverse City and others as needed to facilitate distance learning.  “We will continue to compete with one another, but we’ll complement each other, too.”  In other words, Snyder added, the technological infrastructure is already in place bringing much-needed services to the region more quickly than some people here realize.  “We want to let our communities know there are providers up here and we do play nice together,” he said. “Northern Michigan really does have options.”