By ELIZABETH M. DANEFF
Capital News Service
LANSING — High-speed Internet connections are hard to find in Northern Michigan, but businesses across the area say broadband is essential to remain competitive.
Charles Blankenship, president of the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation, said high-speed Internet access is becoming a necessity for doing business in 2002. “High-speed telecommunication is so critical to do business today. You simply need it to stay ahead of the competition.”
In his State of the State Address, Gov. John Engler urged the Legislature to pass the MI HiSpeed Internet plan, for speedy deployment of broadband technology to all of Michigan. He said high-speed Internet access would help students learn, help businesses compete and help workers build a better future for Michigan.
Engler estimated 500,000 jobs would be created with the deployment of statewide broadband.
Blankenship and Traverse City officials are developing a proposal for the State of Michigan’s LinkMichigan Regional Telecommunications Planning Program. The program provides grants for assessing telecommunications issues.
Representatives of Traverse City’s business, education and government sectors are discussing what it would take to get the downtown area wireless.
But Traverse City isn’t the only area in Northern Michigan looking at the benefits of broadband expansion.
Jim Parker, vice president of sales for Petoskey-based Parker Motor Freight Inc., said his company uses the Internet to build better customer relations. “Everyone is using the Internet for business,” Parker said. “It helps us offer more information about our company to our customers.
Parker said that PMF realizes most people don’t have access to broadband. The company tries to limit the amount of graphics it displays on its Web site so customers can view the page faster and easier.
“If I’m downloading something and it takes forever for the page to load, I usually just click off and forget about it,”Parker said. “Faster Internet speeds allow people to access more information, which could help increase business.”
Linda Singer, president of the West Michigan Tourist Association, said her organization has seen a 45 percent drop in foot traffic to their visitor center, while Internet traffic has climbed tremendously.
According to Singer, travel is the No. 1 reason people get on the Internet. She said the Michigan travel industry has been quick to respond, with even the smallest businesses having some type of Web site available.
“The Internet has become so important to all of us,” said Singer. “Before people go anywhere, they get online to check the weather, make reservations or even look at the room they’re staying in.”
Singer said it is just as important for Michigan residents to have high-speed Internet access as it is for businesses around the state. “People are taking shorter vacations more frequently, and they usually wait until the last minute to plan them,” she said. “Broadband access will allow people to do all their research at home before they leave for vacation.”
Hal Van Sumeren, president of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, said a hunger for knowledge is leading people to the Internet.
“We have had more computer and Internet companies join our organization in the last year. We’re also getting more e-mail addresses as part of our directory,” Van Sumeren said. “It’s faster and cheaper to use the Internet to keep in touch.”
In Charlevoix, the Beaver Island Boat Co. is using the Internet to attract potential customers. Its extensive Web site has been active for four years.
“We get a tremendous amount of calls in our line of business,” said marketing manager Luke Bates. “Our Web site is the easiest way to relay information to our customers. Sales have certainly increased as a direct result.”
According to Blankenship, increased sales are just one benefit to having high-speed Internet access in your business.
“For industries in Northern Michigan, high-speed Internet access means plans and data for complex products can be sent all over the world.”
MCS Inc., out of Harbor Springs, is an Internet service company that is helping small- to medium-sized businesses develop Web site and graphic design solutions.
Joseph Kolondziej, president of MCS, said high-speed access is a necessity for businesses that do a lot of file transferring and frequent system backups. “Broadband is very beneficial for businesses that use data storage like hospitals and government agencies. Files transfer more quickly without bogging down internal resources.”
Kolondziej said that in the last year, traffic to his company’s main Web site has grown by 10 percent each month. “We’re constantly updating and expanding our site,” he said.
“Our new server, which uses a T1 connection, is state of the art. It allows us to offer not only Web hosting, but enormous amounts of data storage to larger companies.”
Access to broadband is one of the hottest topics around the state. In Northern Michigan, high-speed Internet access is still considered a luxury by many, but as Bates said, in the near future, broadband will be necessary to keep Michigan on top.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ELIZABETH M. DANEFF