Wireless Washtenaw program to file $4 million request for stimulus funding
The telecommunications firm that manages Washtenaw County's years-long wireless Internet initiative expects to file an application by Thursday for $4 million in funding from the federal economic stimulus package.
Bob Wolff, president of Ann Arbor-based 20/20 Communications, said he's been "pretty sequestered in a room" finalizing the details of the application on behalf of Wireless Washtenaw. The program, started in 2004 and backed by several municipalities, aims to provide high-speed wireless Internet access to the entire county.
But the program has stalled in recent years due to investor apprehension about the economic viability of municipal wireless initiatives. Wolff said 20/20 Communications has invested more than $2 million in the Wireless Washtenaw program, which is not profitable. The service -- for which the county provides infrastructure but not funding -- has some 600 daily rural users.
The Internet service provider hopes to tap a piece of $4.7 billion in grants allocated by the stimulus package to expansion of broadband Internet access.
20/20 is hoping for grant dollars or low-cost loans. Wolff said he was
"cautiously optimistic" that the company's application would be
The original broadband stimulus application deadline was Friday, but that was reportedly extended due to bureaucratic application difficulties.
"We were pretty much ready to go on Friday, but now that we’ve got some extra time we’re going back and doing some fine-tuning" to the application, Wolff said.
The company's application comes as Ypsilanti-based tech startup Wireless Ypsi has garnered the wireless spotlight by turning a profit less than two years after its inception. The company provides free wireless to downtown Ypsilanti as a community service, but it is signing for-profit deals with real estate companies to provide cheap Internet access in crowded areas. 20/20 and Wireless Ypsi say their services aren't competitors.
"Wireless Ypsi is not intended to do what Wireless Washtenaw ... intended to do," Wireless Ypsi co-founder Steve Pierce said recently.