New survey could help Washtenaw County win funding to expand rural broadband

The Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force, created by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, is offering a survey to gather data from rural residents without broadband internet access and use the results to promote countywide broadband equity.

 

The task force hopes to use the data gathered to show eligibility for grants to help provide broadband.

 

Barbara Fuller, chairman of the task force, says the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has data that is inaccurate and prevents Washtenaw County from applying for state and federal grants to help fund more broadband access.

 

"(The) U.S. Department of Agriculture has rural broadband expansion grants they offer, but they look at FCC data and they claim that we are covered (with broadband) and ineligible to apply," Fuller says.

 

The task force hopes the results will show the lack of access among residents in 15 townships across the county. They estimate more than 8,000 households in Washtenaw County lack access to broadband internet.

 

The survey can be taken online with an internet speed test, if residents have access to broadband, or through a paper survey that was delivered to homes in early February. The task force plans to use the results to disprove FCC data and open the door for funding.

 

Fuller says lack of internet access for rural areas does a disservice to those residents. She says broadband access should be considered a utility and a guarantee for all county residents.

 

"We have students and other residents who are at a disadvantage," Fuller says. "What we've discovered is we have students in rural parts of the county who can't do homework or access ebooks with hyperlinks. If I want to take an online course or watch a video, I can't do that without broadband access."

 

The survey is open until March 16, 2020. More information on the task force can be found here.

 

Emily Benda is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor. You can contact her at emily@emilybenda.com.

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