COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON - Representatives from Mercury Broadband and the Southwest Michigan First Chamber of Commerce cut the ribbon on Mercury’s first southwest Michigan service center in Schoolcraft on Monday, May 2. Mercury is looking to bring broadband internet services to southwest Michigan, including St. Joseph County, by the end of September. Cutting the ribbon in the middle are Mercury Broadband Co-founder and CEO Garrett Wiseman and regional general manager Robert Dow.

Mercury Broadband to bring new internet option to St. Joseph County, rural areas

SCHOOLCRAFT — A new option for internet services will be coming to St. Joseph County within the next few months.

On May 2, Kansas City-based internet and phone provider Mercury Broadband opened the doors on its new 16,000-square foot service center at 610 E. Eliza St. in Schoolcraft, the beginning of the company’s expansion into the state of Michigan.

Mercury’s initial launch in the southwest Michigan area is expected to provide broadband internet services to rural areas in Kalamazoo County and the surrounding areas, including St. Joseph County, by the end of September, with the majority of St. Joseph County expected to be ready by the end of June.

“We're really excited to be here. We've worked on this for two years now, and so everything's finally coming together,” Mercury Broadband Co-founder and CEO Garrett Wiseman said. “We're getting towers up online in a couple months, we're going to start putting fiber in the ground, we're building up fixed wireless internet and fiber to the home, so just a ton of infrastructure going into the area.”

Wiseman said Mercury mainly focuses on rural communities that are underserved or unserved for their services, touting Wi-Fi 6 routers, wireless and fiber optic internet, 150-megabit-per-second internet speeds for wireless connections and gigabit-per-second fiber-optic speeds. The company has been close to Michigan for several years, having had a presence in northern Indiana since 2013.

“When we look at the areas we're going into, we're looking at areas that don't have a lot of service already. This was kind of an extension of the area in northern Indiana, and there's a huge unserved population here that didn't have access to good internet services,” Wiseman said about the expansion into St. Joseph County. “We saw a need and we started putting together plans to come in and build it.”

Part of the plans include a $280 million investment to bring services into the state as a whole, consisting of $250 million in private investment and $30 million in federal funds. The federal funding is thanks in part to a reverse auction the company won through the Federal Communications Commission in November 2020, which secured the company some of the funding to build out services.

“There's some federal funding going alongside private investment we're making into these communities, and what that's doing is helping to accelerate the process in some of these more rural areas that are more difficult to build out to,” Wiseman said. “That funding helps us to edge out even further. The state's done a great job of making resources available as well and helping us to get into more rural communities.”

Locally, the reverse auction and its results were criticized mainly by officials in Park Township, with Township Supervisor Ed English noting back in October they were not aware of the auction happening. In addition, at that point, the township and its internet committee had been talking to Midwest Energy and Communications to potentially bring broadband internet to the area.

Both Wiseman and Mercury’s southwest Michigan general manager Robert Dow said they have not heard from Park Township as of yet regarding internet in the township, but said they would be open to working with them to help hash out what is needed in the area.

“We are working with a lot of the different communities around here, and we're open to working with Park Township and any of the others, absolutely,” Wiseman said.

Dow said he estimated Mercury internet service would be available in most of St. Joseph County by the end of June, and in all of the county by the end of September. The company estimates they have about 100 tower sites in the region they are building, something Wiseman called a “huge effort.” Parts of eastern and western Cass County are also expected to be part of the rollout, with September as the target month for services.

“Within the next month, two months, we'll gradually turn towers on across the area, and over the next couple months people can start signing up,” Wiseman said, adding that the company is now taking pre-subscriptions for service.

The May 2 ribbon cutting ceremony on their new service center was attended by Mercury staff, area business leaders from the Southwest Michigan First Chamber and local elected officials, as well as representatives from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office. Melissa Fish, the regional liaison for Whitmer, said the governor believes every family and business “deserves access” to affordable high-speed internet.

“[Gov. Whitmer] wants to close the digital divide by expanding broadband, driving down costs and boosting digital literacy. High-speed internet allows communities to develop and attract jobs and businesses, and it expands economic opportunities for families, enhances educational experiences for students, and allows for access to key healthcare services,” Fish said. “It’s going to take partners like Mercury Broadband to ensure all Michiganders have access to affordable and reliable internet. We’re thrilled you chose southwest Michigan as the home base for your Michigan operation.”

Overall, Wiseman said he looks forward to what’s to come with Mercury in the area.

“This is kind of the beginning of all the work we're doing in Michigan. Rob and his team have done a phenomenal job getting all these sites put together, and it's really exciting,” Wiseman said.

Those looking for more information on Mercury Broadband are asked to visit mercurybroadband.com.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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