REED CITY — Increasing the access to broadband, especially in rural areas throughout Michigan and the country, has become an important part of U.S. Sen. Gary Peters’ job in Washington, D.C.

Michigan’s junior senator heard about the progress made of broadband capabilities in Osceola County during a meeting with community leaders and officials from Connect Michigan on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at the Reed City District Library.

Broadband relates to or denotes a type of high-speed data transmission in which the bandwidth is shared by more than one simultaneous signal.

“Broadband is essential in rural areas, especially with the economy as dynamic and diverse as it is,” said the Democratic senator from Oakland County. “It’s important for people to think of broadband as essential as a highway is, getting them where they need to go. It is important for businesses, health care and people to connect with each other.”

Tom Stephenson, Connect Michigan community technology advisor, and Dan Massey, Osceola County community and economic development coordinator, spoke of the improvements made in the last few years.

When work began on expanding broadband access, Massey said there wasn’t a plan in place, and he just happened to run in Stephenson, and began working on a community survey.

In 2012, Stephenson said, about 59 percent of residents in Osceola County had access to broadband.

“There was a lack of knowledge of what broadband was at that time, and some residents and businesses didn’t understand the value of the internet,” Stephenson said. “Businesses weren’t using the internet or social media. Now everyone knows the impact of social media.”

Currently, a little more than 98 percent of Osceola County has access to broadband, Stephenson said.

Jeremy Bainbridge, director of business operations for Spectrum Health, gave a demonstration on MedNow, a telehealth program that uses secure video links to connect patients with their health care providers.

“It is more cost efficient for patients,” he said. “Instead of having to be transferred to Grand Rapids, or even drive to Grand Rapids, they can have this face-to-face appointment with their health care provider.”

Peters said it’s important for both urban and rural communities to have broadband access, so programs like MedNow can be accessed for all to use.

“When you hear about the strides made in the county, it is encouraging,” said Peters, who serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Peters’ stop in Osceola County was day two of a five-day motorcycle tour Peters had traveling across Michigan.