(TNS) — On Oct. 8, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that $12.7 million in Connecting Michigan Communities grants would be awarded to agencies across the state to increase broadband internet access. The Berrien and Cass county areas were among those identified to benefit.

"In today's society, the fastest way to create an even playing field for all is access to high speed internet," Whitmer said. "These broadband internet projects, along with additional infrastructure initiatives we are undertaking, will provide underserved communities in Michigan with high-speed internet service. This critical service is no longer a luxury, but is a necessity that allows every Michigander to get a quality education and compete in the global economy."

According to Whitmer's office, approximately 1.2 million households in Michigan did not have permanent fixed broadband connection at home. This results in nearly a $1.8 billion to $2.7 billion in potential economic benefit not being utilized in these disconnected households, according to Caleb Buhs and Kathleen Achtenberg of the state.

The Connecting Michigan Communities Grant Program has put Mercury Wireless in charge of the initiative in the Berrien and Cass county areas. Mercury Wireless was awarded $410,422 of its needed $547,229 for its project, "Mercury Connects Berrien and Cass." The census blocks identified for service under this grant can be found on Michigan's Department of Technology, Management and Budget website in its Connecting Michigan Communities Grant Program page.

"Our grant applications were designed to target the most underserved areas in Berrien and Cass counties," said Mathew Sims , grant administrator for Mercury Wireless. "Subscribers who previously had few or no options for broadband connectivity will be provided speeds up to 100Mbps with unlimited data, enabling them to work from home and providing families with the ability to participate in distance learning."

Sims said the needs for these resources and services are now more important due to the impact of our current COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Sims, projects to connect areas in Berrien and Cass counties will kick off in early 2021.

The areas identified to be served by the initiative were identified through the state of Michigan at the census block level, Sims said. If the census block did not have any internet providers offering a connectivity speed of 10Mbps or more, the area became eligible for the grant funding. Mercury Wireless aims to target those areas, and build a network providing wireless connections with up to 100Mbps with unlimited data.

"Subscriber access sites will be turned up throughout the year as we continue our buildout in the area," Sims said.

Consumers wanting to connect with the service provided will have the option of three different internet speeds, 10Mbps, 30 Mbps and 100Mbps. Each speed will come with unlimited data.

Mercury Wireless will be managing and maintaining the wireless equipment used to connect to the service, and those utilizing the service will pay a one-time installation fee.

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