Initiative strives to ensure high-speed internet access
The Right Place, and other economic development colleagues in West Michigan are partnering with Connect Michigan and its “Connected Community” program to complete broadband connectivity and quality assessments for each of the 13 counties in the region. The effort is tied to a larger initiative currently led by Connect Michigan, in partnership with the Michigan Public Service Commission, to ensure all Michiganders have access to fast, reliable broadband. Connect Michigan’s mission is to increase high-speed internet access, adoption and use to diversify the economy and ensure Michigan’s competitiveness in the connected global economy of the 21st century.
The Right Place and the Ionia County Economic Alliance (ICEA) presented at a monthly township meeting about ICEA, The Right Place and the Ionia Broadband Advisory Committee. The Committee currently is meeting with Ionia County internet providers to discuss the results of business and residential surveys. The committee is composed of representatives from the Ionia ISD, Chamber of Commerce, Montcalm Community College, health care, library system and banking.
The committee also is currently working with Connect Michigan to develop an Action Plan that is expected to be completed at the end of 2016 or early 2017. This Action Plan will guide and prioritize future investments in Ionia County. At this point, Ionia County is not yet considered a “Certified” Connected Community based on their scores.
Kent County recently has completed several broadband surveys across the county to support their assessment. This assessment now is being reviewed and “scored” by Connect Michigan and Connected Nation and plans are being made to recognize Kent County as a Certified Connected Community early in 2017.
Connect Michigan’s Dan Manning presented the broadband survey results to the Montcalm Economic Alliance over the summer. Montcalm County scored high enough to apply for Certified Connected Community status with Connected Nation, anticipating an announcement in early 2017.
As part of the application process for Connected Community status, a report was generated to identify opportunities for even better enhancement of broadband in the county.
Finally, Casair, a major Mid-Michigan internet provider to rural communities, received a $26.2 million federal grant back in 2010 to roll out high-speed internet service over fiber optic lines and wireless systems in six central Michigan counties. That project was completed and dramatically improved Montcalm County’s connectivity.
Regarding the initiative as a whole, Connect Michigan is applying for a grant from the West Michigan Regional Prosperity Alliance (WMRPA) to continue its work into 2017. Below is a snippet from the application for 2017 funding:
“In 2014, Connect Michigan applied for and was selected as a priority Regional Prosperity project to continue our Connected Community work in Barry, Mecosta and Osceola counties and expand this program to the remaining counties in the region throughout 2015 and beyond. During 2015-16, these in-process engagements were accelerated and new Community Broadband Teams were formed in Allegan, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo and Oceana counties.
“Our proposal for the 2016 West Michigan Regional Prosperity Initiative is to continue our ‘Connected Community’ work in 2017 at both the county and regional level to address local broadband and technology issues, help accelerate broadband expansion and establish/expand the broadband planning process throughout the region. This would also include a new engagement in Ottawa County, assuming sufficient interest and community leadership can be identified to support this project. More details on specific 2017 objectives are contained in our project nomination document.
“As a result of the program, each county in the region will have completed a Community Broadband Assessment, developed a Technology Action Plan to improve their broadband environment and will have an empowered local team of stakeholders in place to address future broadband-related concerns and implement projects resulting from their broadband planning activities.”
Tim Mroz is vice president, marketing and communications at The Right Place Inc.