Some internet signals strained with stay-at-home demand

CANNON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Like many families, the Behms have had to get used to the new normal under the state’s order to stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus. Justin Behm, his wife and three sons have adjusted to the constant togetherness.

Their internet signal hasn’t.

“I won’t lie. It’s been a challenge,” Behm said. “You have three kids on video doing classwork, and you have me on conference calls with 200-people team calls and my wife comes home and tries to do work. It just can’t handle it.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to close schools for the rest of the academic year will have students, teachers and parents relying on their home internet signals to continue lessons. But can the infrastructure handle the demand?

In some cases, the answer is no.

Behm and his neighbors have to rely on a basic signal to get online at their home east of Rockford. He said the neighborhood association began asking for high-speed internet long before COVID-19 became a problem, offering to guarantee the number of homes signing up and offering to pay up front for services.

“With 17 homes, each home an acre or two, it just doesn’t meet (the provider’s) return-on-investment thresholds,” Behm said.

He declined to name the service provider because he knows of other neighborhoods with other providers but the same issue.

“I would say those are the fringe cases now. That’s probably not the main focus or not the largest percentage of people anymore,” Behm said. “But for those people, we’re still struggling.”

Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Shibler says about 93% of his student population has access to technology and the internet. Families with limited internet access may have to go old-school.

“Those students, we’ll make available paper pencil instruction materials.” Shibler told News 8.

Behm has also come up with contingencies:

“There are time I work off hours. I’ll do calls and things later in the day if the boys are doing stuff during the day,” Behm said.

He said he is hoping internet providers get the message and make improvements soon, because the effects of the COVID-19 crisis aren’t going away anytime soon.