|Dec 10, 2010 --
USDA Rural Development
Community Connect; Broadband Loan Program; Broadband Initiatives Program
The Great Lakes Bay Region and Thumb Area in Michigan were in need of broadband infrastructure to allow the community to compete in the global marketplace. In addition to lack of broadband services necessary for local businesses to operate, schools needed an internet connection for their students in the classroom and at their homes. Seeing these critical needs missing in the community, Zimco, a family- owned corporation, founded Air Advantage in June, 2002 to offer a broadband solution.
How Rural Development Helped:
Initially, USDA Rural Development made two Community Connect Grants to Air Advantage: $219,176 for Port Hope, Michigan and $214,532 for Unionville, Michigan. The grants provided funding for a wireless infrastructure and community center with 10 computers in both communities where residents could access the Internet using high-speed broadband service.
As the business grew, Air Advantage applied to USDA Rural Development’s Broadband Loan Program. In 2004, they received a low interest loan of $1,500,000 to reach several Michigan communities followed by another loan in late 2005 for $1,028,000 for additional Broadband expansion in the rural community of Frankenmuth, Michigan.
In 2009, USDA provided an additional loan for $908,000, so Air Advantage could upgrade and expand its services.
In 2010, Air Advantage was selected for a Rural Development Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) award under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; a $32.3 million loan and a $31.9 million grant. These funds will be used to extend broadband services to last-mile consumers in 13 counties that make up an area known as the Great Lakes Bay Region and Thumb Area.
On November 30, 2010, Air Advantage reported delivering broadband services to 4,943 customers in its 3,500 square mile service area using 350 miles of wireless network backbone. The 65 towers transmit information that reaches out to households, six hospitals, and 18 school districts where students have at least 17 distance learning courses at any given time. In addition, Air Advantage also provides service to 21 hospitals and medical facilities, 7 police service, 4 fire facilities, 4 ambulance services and 59 government office locations throughout 75 municipalities.
Students can do research and take distance learning courses without having to travel great distances. And, fifty or more students are now taking advantage of dual enrollment classes to take college and high school level courses at the same time. The program is possible because of broadband.
Businesses are also realizing the benefits that broadband offers. At least 20 Air Advantage customers living in remote Northern Michigan have eliminated long commuting times and enjoy the benefits of working from home 3-5 days a week.
Broadband throughout the region will improve because of the BIP loan and grant. The BIP award will fund additional broadband infrastructure which will pass 279,200 households, approximately 21,000 businesses, and 4,000 community institutions that include hospitals, libraries, universities, schools and government entities.
The project will create or save an estimated 142 jobs and may add many more as users are connected to the system and local businesses expand. Air Advantage is a proud recipient of the US Chamber of Commerce Blue Ribbon Small Business Award. This award is given to companies that have shown excellence in business history and commitment to customers, employees, and the community.