An estimated 11% of Ottawa County residents don’t have broadband internet

GRAND HAVEN, MI – Nearly 11% of surveyed Ottawa County residents said they don’t have broadband internet.

And of those surveyed that do have internet, 15% of them had speeds slower than Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) minimum broadband threshold. That’s a threshold county officials say is outdated and much slower than a new recommended industry standard.

Ottawa County officials say the recently-released survey confirms what they had known: that there are internet coverage gaps across the county.

The survey, called the Broadband Data Collection Survey, received 3,940 responses and was intended to capture a more accurate picture of internet accessibility and create better broadband availability maps.

It’s the first step in a multi-phase process by the county and its partners called the Digital Inclusion Strategy to improve access to high-speed and affordable broadband internet across the entire county.

“It was critical for us to commence with our own statistically validated study of broadband access needs because we do not have time to wait for the FCC or state to correct their data sets,” said Paul Sachs, director of Ottawa County’s Department of Strategic Impact. “To address our county’s broadband access inequities now, we needed better maps.”

Related: West Michigan county might build, lease internet infrastructure to bring broadband to all

The survey, which launched last summer, was conducted by Ann Arbor-based internet research and educational organization Merit Network, Inc. The county and its partners funded the work.

Details of the survey were made available last week, on April 22.

Of the 10.5% of respondents who said they lack broadband access, 72% of them said there are no internet services available to their address. The remaining 26% said the price is just too high.

Using the survey results, Ottawa County officials estimate that 11,737 of the county’s roughly 111,785 households have no access to fixed, high-speed internet.

Nearly all of those without broadband internet, about 97%, said they would be willing to pay between $25-$101 for service if it was available.

For the 89.5% of respondents with broadband, just under half, or about 40%, said they are satisfied with current provider options.

According to the FCC, an internet connection must have a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of 3 Mbps to qualify as broadband.

About 74% of respondents had internet service at or above that standard. About 15% with internet were below it.

Only 15% of respondents had service speeds above 100 Mbps for download and 20 Mbps upload. County officials say that speed is the minimum recommended standard from industry experts and the U.S. Congress.

The survey highlighted great discrepancies with existing FCC data, which vastly overestimated the percent of households with internet speeds at that 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload standard.

“Almost everybody in the industry agrees that the FCC data is inaccurate. Even the FCC admits it,” said Douglas Weber, president of Urban Wireless Solutions, one of the partners on the county’s Digital Inclusion Strategy.

The next phase of the work involves drafting plans on how the county and those in the private and nonprofit sectors could bring affordable broadband across the county.

“We know it’s not economically feasible to lay fiber to every home and business across the county,” Weber said. “With wireless in some instances delivering speeds comparable to fiber, it may be more cost-effective.”

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