February 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Dear Detroit: Time for an Internet upgrade

Downtown Detroit's crumbling infrastructure could retard the city's comeback. One business was quoted $40,000 to install high-speed Internet due to prohibitive city ordinances. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)

Last week our business broke ground on something that should be a basic business amenity in the city of Detroit. After six months of struggling, we may be closer to receiving an Internet upgrade.

In July of 2013 we opened our collaborative co-working space downtown. Bamboo Detroit is located in a prime spot for a business, near the corner of Brush and Gratiot just blocks from Campus Martius, Greektown and Ford Field.

A co-working space provides reliable office space and a community for individuals and small businesses who canít afford or donít need large office space. One critical aspect to providing collaborative workspace is fast and reliable Internet. After six months of working with the city of Detroit, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., and Internet providers, we may finally be closer to an upgrade to this basic business service, which until now had been woefully slow.

Why was this an issue for a small business located in the central business district of Detroit?

Well, to achieve even basic broadband Internet speeds we were told we needed to pay an Internet provider to do major construction to upgrade their underground infrastructure. The major construction was needed because the city of Detroit has an ordinance that prevents boring. This is a technique that allows a machine to dig underground, causing minimal road and utility damage.

We were quoted by a major Internet provider a fee of $40,000 to close off the road, dig underground, and bring faster Internet to the building. Others wouldnít even give us a quote, due to the city ordinance.

This left our small business struggling, slowing the growth of our membership, which includes many digital publications and design and development companies who need access to reliable and fast Internet to do business. Why hasnít this been easier in Detroit?

Last week, our future Internet provider broke ground on construction to fix a broken conduit under Brush Street, leaving us one step closer to receiving our faster Internet. Though itís been six months and we have been told false deadlines again and again, weíre hoping for an answer soon.

In the meantime, Detroit should consider revising this ordinance and supporting businesses. We should consider alternatives to relying on slow buildouts that prevent growth.

With the momentum weíre seeing with Dan Gilbertís buy-up of downtown Detroit, and the newly launched tech training institute Grand Circus we need to have the infrastructure ready for technology companies to start and grow.

And small businesses like ours need the basic services to survive. Every company needs Internet now, whether itís a restaurant, an office space, or a large corporation. At this time, while we look to new initiatives to grow business in Detroit, please consider what a better Internet infrastructure could mean for Detroit.

Letís look to cities like Kansas City, which have participated in Google Fiberís pilot project, bringing speeds 100 times faster than average residential Internet speeds at just $70 per month.

Letís work on initiatives that make it easier to start a business, not harder to start or remain.

Dear Detroit, letís start positioning ourselves as a city for the future.

Amanda Lewan is the community manager at Bamboo Detroit, and editor of Michipreneur.com.