The results are in: Midland County Broadband Committee shares survey results and initial action plan

The Connected Nation (CN) survey results are in. Now it’s time to get to work on improving Midland County’s broadband connectivity.

The survey, conducted from last October through January, was intended to glean a more concise picture of what the current broadband environment is. With more people working and learning from home, the need for high-speed broadband is critical.

Data was gathered from businesses, schools, residents, and organizations across the county. Over 1400 residents responded. Internet service providers were also asked to share information about where they’re providing service. 

Dan Manning is the Community Technology Advisor for CN Michigan.“The overall participation was great to see,”  says Dan Manning, community technology advisor for CN Michigan. “... Once we had all that pulled together, then we spent a little time looking at where the gaps are, and what parts of the county need some additional help. There were basically dead areas or pockets across the county where there’s no access available today.”

Six townships were identified that needed the most support with infrastructure: Jasper, Geneva, Mills, Greendale, Jerome, and Hope. Many other townships were flagged to improve speed and capacity.

“There are probably some that are getting 5 or 10 Megabits service, where ideally, we try to get everybody to at least 25 [Megabits] as a minimum,” says Manning.

On their website, people can access an interactive map that shows who is subscribing to services, where services are, and how they line up with households. You can even see where fiber service will be built out through a federal program over the next few years (FCC RDOF). That service will be 100 Megabits or higher. You can also drill down to find other information

“It’s a good way to capture all that, and it’s a lot easier to look at that visually on a map than trying to work through all the numbers and statistics that show the same kind of thing,” says Manning. “We hope people take advantage of that because it’s a really helpful tool.” 

The next step is the formation of the Midland County Technology Action Committee to provide focus and continuity in executing the action plan. Leading the effort so far are Tony Stamas of the Midland Business Alliance, Sharon Mortensen of the Midland Area Community Foundation, and Bridgette Gransden, Midland County Administrator/Controller. After that, partnerships should be formed to pool funding and resources.
Many service providers, including AT&T, Charter, and Comcast, have discount programs for low-income families.
“This is going to be an ongoing effort for a while,” says Manning. “... It’ll get started here within the next month or two. We’ve got a number of high-level actions that we’re starting with, that we’re already working on in order to get going.”

The Committee will also work with service providers, tackling bureaucratic barriers such as fees and approval processes. Local providers like Air Advantage, LakeNet, and Point Broadband will be assisted with expanding and upgrading their services.

Some of the key recommendations for expanding access, adoption, and use of broadband and its related technologies across the county include:  
  • Identify and prioritize specific geographic areas across the county in need of service expansion or improvements,
  • Work with local broadband providers to assess targeted unserved and underserved areas for potential buildout,
  • Evaluate and develop public-private partnerships to support the deployment of expanded broadband service,
  • Identify and pursue opportunities to increase download speeds specifically for county residents and public safety organizations,
  • Conduct a more focused assessment of the Agricultural community and explore options to improve their connectivity and service levels, and
  • Promote available low-cost broadband service offerings to help address cost issues for vulnerable populations.
“While there are needs out there, Midland County is not in desperate shape compared to other counties,” says Manning. “But one of the things that Tony and Sharon and Bridgette really wanted to do was get Midland County in a place where every resident and every business has got access to high-speed broadband. … That’s the kind of thing we really need from local leaders in order to make this kind of stuff happen.

“There’s a lot of good news coming down the road, is the bottom line,” says Manning.

You can view the results of their Midland County Broadband surveys on the My Connected Community site. More information on the Connected Community Engagement Program can be found on their website.

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala is a freelance writer with a focus on health and science. As a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities, she loves sharing how our communities are overcoming challenges. Crystal is also a serial hobbyist — her interests range from hiking or drawing to figuring out how to do a handstand. Her work can be seen in Wide Open Eats, The Xylom, Woman & Home, and The Detroit Free Press. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.