Erickson travels for EAN


Sophie Hillmeyer

NMU President Erickson was invited by Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow to attend the U.S. Senate Democratic Rural Summit in Washington, D.C., at the end of September, because of his work with the Educational Access Network (EAN). He was joined by Gavin Leach, vice president of finance and administration
at NMU.

In the current state of the U.S. education system, access to internet has become as important as electricity. However, access to internet systems can be limited in the rural U.P., this need sparked the creation of the EAN to increase accessibility and has been heavily utilized by residents of the U.P., Erickson said.

Stabenow has been an advocate for the work NMU has been doing with the EAN and wanted officials to attend the summit to learn how other communities were facing issues beyond broadband,
Erickson said.

“We found a way to bring high speed broadband to rural communities in a very affordable and accessible way,” Erickson said.

The EAN is a wireless internet service provided by NMU to offer access without data caps to all students, and at an affordable fee for unaffiliated U.P. residents. The main demographic of users are K-12 students because of partnerships with school districts in the region. More than 3,000 K-12 students use the EAN services, with their families having access to it as well, and they are the driving force for the extensions.

The process of creating the EAN began in 2008 and will expand to cover more area, with 22 new towers being installed this fall to catch up with the demands that the program is drawing, Erickson said. He added that the goal of the EAN is to provide internet service across the entire U.P.

All summit attendees were invited by senators to discuss issues about how the U.S. government can better understand and support issues faced in rural communities, Erickson said.

“We had the opportunity to meet and talk with people from all over,” he said. “Rural broadband issues transcend many of the rural issues and this was a chance for us to talk about the unique role we play.”

Erickson and Leach were among the few university officials at the summit, as most participants were from the agriculture industry. Internet access has become increasingly necessary in the farming industry as well, and this summit provided a collaborative way to discuss the wide range of rural issues and ways to combat them, Erickson said.

For the U.P., this internet access provides users with more opportunities and awareness of current issues, he said.

“The most important thing is that the EAN is about education,” Erickson said. “People need to be able to keep learning throughout their whole lives so we’re just as excited as can be that we have people from 8 to 80 that are part of this system.”