Osceola County Broadband Committee begins task of connecting residents

REED CITY — Those living in Osceola County can help government, business and community leaders determine how to better connect residents to broadband access and resources.

Members representing a variety of organizations met May 10 for Connected Nation’s community engagement program to determine a plan to improve everyone’s access to broadband.

Thomas Stephenson, Connected Nation community technology advisor, shared how broadband has changed over the last few years.

"Four to five years ago, the standard was 3 MBs download, 1 MB upload," he said, referring to bandwidth, the bit-rate of available or consumed information capacity. "People liked it. ... Because of demand, the Federal Communications Commission's new standard is 25 down(load) by 3 up(load)."

Assessing and improving access and use of broadband is a large portion of the county's effort to become a 2.0 Connected Community. Connected certification is a national program that recognizes a community has demonstrated proficiency for effective access, adoption and use of broadband and broadband-supported technologies, according to Osceola County Developer Dan Massy.

The first step in the certification process, Stephenson said, is having people take a survey.

He explained the committee and Connected Nation will look at the wide a range of data received — from access, cost, internet usage, as well as the role of the internet for school-age children, parents and senior citizens. The survey also will provide officials information about the broadband use and needs for schools, government, businesses, libraries, churches and community organizations and will cover areas of education, agriculture, travel and tourism, public service, government and health care.

Once compiled, the surveys will provide a thorough broadband assessment for Osceola County, Stephenson said. The assessment will help officials formulate an action plan to bring access to areas where their are gaps, Stephenson said.

"Our focus is access, adoption and use," he said. "It will mean working at the pluses and minuses and closing the gaps between each of those.

"It's important we work with providers in the community so we have an idea where they are and where they aren't."

Surveys are available through the end of August, and available on paper, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, email and from committee members. It also can be completed online at connectmycommunity.org/osceola-county.

"The key is getting the data in so Connect Michigan can crunch the numbers," Massy said. "With that data, they'll be able to map it and we will be able to see the areas of need and what projects have to be done."

Massy said the internet has become a part of everyone's life in one way or another.

"Broadband is a big deal," he said. "I think our county needs to move forward on this."