KENT COUNTY, Mich. — The Kent County Board of Commissioners are creating a new subcommittee focused on access to high-speed internet.
“With so many people working from home, learning from home, doing all those kinds of things, it is not longer an option that people have access to this kind of high-speed internet,” said Ben Greene, Kent County Commissioner. “It is becoming a necessity.”
Greene is chairing the 11-member broadband subcommittee. In addition to county commissioners, the panel includes stakeholders in the private and public sector.
“We’re looking to identify the places in which those barriers exist and find solutions to address them,” said Greene.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, a broadband internet connection includes a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps (megabits per second) and a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps.
A broadband map published in September 2020 from Connected Nation Michigan shows 97.4 percent of homes in Kent County have access to that speed. Access decreases as the speed increases, though, with 96.6 percent of homes having access to 100 Mbps / 10 Mbps. Rural areas of Kent County lacked the high-speed internet access.
Connected Nation Michigan works with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Public Service Commission, and Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget to ensure broadband connection.
Greene says while the percentage is small, it’s the county’s responsibility to provide equitable access.
“I’ve already heard from a number of people who are eager to get in,” said Greene. “They’re reaching out and saying, ‘Please make note of our area.’”
Greene lists costs as the biggest barrier and predicts most of the subcommittee’s work will focus on identifying collaborative strategies, such as partnering with the road commission, and available funding to lower broadband installation prices.
“While we’re doing the sewer and the road work, why don’t we see if we can lay that PVC pipe that will be a conduit to get high-speed internet access as well?” Greene asked.
Greene adds increased connectivity attracts community investors and contributes to the area’s growth.
“It’s critical for our economy and our infrastructure, including our education system, like I said, our healthcare system; all of those things are driven by this sort of thing,” said Greene.
The broadband subcommittee will meet in March and be asked to provide a progress report to the Kent County Board of Commissioners at the end of 2021. Depending on the progress and recommendations made, the board may extend their work into 2022.