Survey will help get accurate picture of broadband access
A new Midland County Broadband Committee has launched an effort to develop a technology action plan aimed at improving and expanding high-speed internet access for homes and businesses across the county.
The county broadband committee, in partnership with Connection Nation (CN), just kicked off its Connected Community Engagement program for Midland County. Developed by CN, the program will leverage survey-gathered data and input from local residents, businesses, and community organizations. The goal: develop a technology action plan that addresses the area’s unique broadband or high-speed internet needs.
“We continue to hear from our community what a critical issue this is and how the quality of service is essential in meeting so many basic needs,” said Tony Stamas, president & CEO of the Midland Business Alliance. “Broadband connectivity has long been a need in Midland County.”
The need is more pronounced than ever as increasing numbers of workers conduct business virtually during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the challenges of the pandemic and flood have impacted our community, the elevated need for improved and affordable virtual infrastructure is increasingly apparent,” Stamas said. “By collaboratively engaging in this work, the entire community will have the opportunity to thrive regardless of physical location.”
The Technology Action plan will be shaped by the information provided by local stakeholders through a 10-minute survey. The survey can be found at https://myconnectedcommunity.org/midland-county. Simply choose the area you’re providing information on and answer the questions that follow.
“Broadband connection is essential to have a community where we all can thrive,” said Sharon Mortensen, president & CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation. “This is even more evident while we deal with the pandemic and the increased need for connectivity. We are pleased to engage in this work with stakeholders from across the community as we work toward our ultimate goal of ensuring access to all.”
The Connected Community Engagement Program has developed similar plans for more than 350 communities nationwide. Dan Manning is the technology adviser with Connected Nation Michigan, a local division of the national nonprofit Connected Nation. He said high-speed internet can mean different things to different people, but the current definition (according to the FCC) is internet access at a speed of 25 megabits per second and 3 Mbps upload.
“This speed is sufficient for most households and small business applications and can be delivered via various technologies such as cable, DSL, fiber and fixed wireless (transmission from towers,” Manning said.
According to 2018 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 80 percent of Midland County households have a broadband internet subscription and 87.6 percent have a computer. But those figures, Stamas said, can be misleading.
“Our goal in seeking community input is to ensure that we have an accurate picture of broadband access in Midland County,” Stamas said. “We have previously received feedback that the maps don’t always present a correct overview on connectivity. We will use this information to develop an action plan that addresses identified gaps in service.”
Manning agrees. “There are plenty of areas around Midland County that need first-time or improved broadband service,” he said.
Broadband coverage maps are developed from data the FCC collects from all broadband providers across the country on where they offer service and at what speeds.
The mapping data indicates that only about 3 percent of Midland County households lack access to 25 Mbps service.
“However, we know that this percentage is actually higher than that because data sent to the FCC is exaggerated for multiple reasons, but especially due to the insufficient level of detail,” Manning said. “So, the coverage maps show greater coverage than what is reality.”
He added: “Having access to broadband only means that a service may be available via some technology. It does not mean that a household is actually subscribing to a service.”
Conducting broadband surveys across Midland County will provide greater detail so “we can learn more precisely where those people are that cannot get access to 25 Mbps,” Manning said. “This will allow us and the Midland County Broadband Committee to focus on those areas and hopefully bring some solutions with the help of local broadband providers.”
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