NLEA to form Broadband Consortium

By Andy Hayes, NLEA President

There currently exists high speed internet fiber in our area that is only accessible to schools, governments and hospitals. In many instances, companies are left with internet service that is less than adequate or unavailable. Through the NLEA Broadband Consortium, companies located within participating counties will have an additional option for services.

This consortium is the necessary legal entity that will enable companies within participating counties to access this high-speed fiber. By collaborating, we could also have influence in establishing new routes that would benefit multiple public and private users. This is not a utility, nor an effort to own or operate an internet service. It is simply an opportunity for companies to tap into existing infrastructure and a formal approach for public/private sector to collaborate for the benefit of all.

There are several examples throughout our NLEA region where our informal NLEA Broadband efforts have assisted companies to receive much needed high speed internet and competitive bids to compare pricing with current service providers. Both options saved companies money and provided better service. The NLEA Board feels that now is the time to formalize our efforts for greater impact.

Hats off to Charlevoix Commissioner (and NLEA Board member) Chris Christensen for leading this effort with a “missionary zeal” over the past several years. His leadership, along with Charlevoix County Administrator Kevin Shepard (also NLEA Board member) and consultant Eric Granstaff have been instrumental in the progress made on this important effort. Buck Love (NLEA Business Retention) serves as our staff lead.

The next steps will be for county commissioners to determine if they want to offer this option for companies in their counties. There is no cost to the counties, but the boards do need to pass a resolution supporting the effort and join the consortium. Charlevoix County officially joined on Dec. 12th, and Emmet, Cheboygan and Antrim Counties are expected to act on their proposed resolution during December and January.

By gaining access to this additional “backbone” option, local providers will benefit as the participating companies will choose who their last mile provider will be. The Consortium can provide technical expertise to assist companies in weighing their options as well as offering suggestions for routes that could benefit the most possible.

NLEA Broadband Fiber Consortium


The mission of the NLEA Broadband Fiber Consortium (NLEABFC) is to proliferate gigabit high-speed, reliable and cost effective broadband services throughout the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance region.

What is the Consortium?

NLEA is working collaboratively with Merit Network to provide access to the fiber backbone throughout the region to connect government buildings, public schools, public libraries, medical facilities, businesses, and communities in an efficient, cost-effective manner. The NLEABFC facilitates a communication network to promote the development of inter- governmental, educational, medical and business opportunities which will provide a conduit to support community goals guided by the mission of all participating members.

What are the Benefits?

Benefits of joining the NLEAFBC include network connectivity, discounted pricing, enhanced collaboration, regional cooperation, and aggregate bandwidth. The consortium promotes partnerships and alliances within the region to advance economic development for both the private and public sectors.

Eligible Members:

  • Counties, Cities, Villages, and Townships
  • Community Colleges
  • Public Libraries
  • Public Schools
  • Health Systems including Behavioral Health
  • Underserved Private Businesses
  • Business Parks

Consortium Vision:

  • Unite and share regional resources and build a foundation of cooperation for potential opportunities in the area of internet, voice, and data.
  • Increase the region’s ability to purchase of service and equipment through leveraging membership buying power.
  • To promote partnerships and alliances to advance the community in economic development.

 The NLEABFC will continue to use the research, data, and models created to provide the support, expertise, and clarity it needs to fulfill the consortium’s mission of increasing the access to broadband Internet throughout the region.