Benzie Broadband Initiative Hosts Community Summit

"Obviously Broadband and internet service touches every part of our lives." - Eric Frederick, Connected Nation Michigan

Virtual meetings and working from home have become a normal part of the day for many of us since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Benzie CountyThat’s also drawing attention to the increased need of broadband internet access across the state – especially in rural areas. Benzie County is taking the next steps forward – with a virtual summit. Benzie County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rick Coates says, “Benzie County, like a lot of the rural counties here in northern Michigan are disconnected. So we decided we really needed to ramp up and get ourselves connected with the rest of the world.”

Benzie County leaders want to move their rural community forward. To do it – they’re highlighting the importance of Broadband Internet service. Paula Figura is part of the Benzie County EDC and is the Chair of the Broadband Committee. “There are huge, big areas of the county, that while there’s a low population density, they still don’t have the access they need. There are zero options in some cases which isn’t really acceptable.”

Coates has seen it first-hand. “I had students, high school students taking classes and doing homework in my parking lot at the Benzie County Chamber office.”

They say information is key – and access to, and use of the internet has become a vital component of everyday life. Figura says, “Because of low population density in much of Benzie County, we have very, very limited options. In some cases it’s just cellular.  Which means you’re going to have a low data cap, it’s going to be expensive. I think an important piece of Broadband beyond making sure everyone has access is making sure that it’s also affordable.”Wifi

Eric Frederick is the Executive Director of Connected Nation Michigan – a group constantly pushing for more and better connections – and higher speeds – throughout the state. Their maps show a large “hole” of inadequate coverage over much of northwest lower Michigan. “I think it’s absolutely critical to know where broadband is, and is not. We’ve definitely seen improvements in broadband but there are still a lot of holes. And it’s really important to understand where those holes are so better decisions can be made.”

Broadband access is not just important for the kids homework. Industry leaders say it’s also important for things like socioeconomic equality, telemedicine, agriculture, and economic development

ConnectivityFrederick says, “I can’t understate the importance of broadband enough. Especially with virtual learning, (and) accessing telehealth.” Coates agrees. “It’s not about just getting connected so you can watch Netflix or so you can do gaming. It’s really every aspect of our life right now depends on digital connectivity. Whether you’re a school, student in school, whether you own a small business. Agriculturally, farmers are running their equipment by being connected to Broadband.”

The Benzie Broadband Summit aims to update to citizens, business owners, and schools about what needs to be done to get Benzie digitally connected. Coates says, “I think COVID has shown that this disconnect, which has existed for a long time, has become even more important.” Figura agrees. “We felt that the most important thing we would need to communicate to our residents was the importance of Broadband. And I think with COVID that has completely changed. I think now everybody understands the importance to the point where there’s a sense of urgency.” She continues, “they need it yesterday.”

Frederick says the implications of Broadband include those working from home, as well as consumers. “When we have a plethora of disconnected households we’re missing out on a significant amount of economic activity among those disconnected households. As a state, if we can better connect and make sure we have access to the infrastructure, make sure those connections are affordable, make sure we have a digitally literate population, and that we’re adopting Broadband, then all of those benefits come to light for everyone in the state.”

The Benzie Broadband Summit will be held live on Monday night from 7:00-8:30 pm, but will also be recorded for later viewing. Get the details here.

For more on the “Connected Nation” Michigan coverage maps and their efforts, click here.

Last week, the Governor’s office announced recipients of the “Connecting Michigan Communities (CMIC) grant program. The $12.7 million in awards are estimated to generate between $15.7 and $23.1 million in annual economic benefits to consumers.” None of the grants are going to communities in northwest lower Michigan. In our viewing area, “Barger Creek Wireless” will use a $3.2 million dollar grant to serve communities in Montmorency and Oscoda counties.