ESCANABA - A team of community members from Delta County is looking to improve high-speed Internet access in the region. The project is part of a national initiative to increase broadband service in under-served areas.
The local group - the Delta County Technology Planning Team - met Tuesday at the Delta County Chamber of Commerce to began assessing broadband services currently available for residents and businesses.
Examples include Internet services accessible to the public and provided by Michigan Works!, the Escanaba Public Library, and Bay College's M-TEC. Representatives from the city of Escanaba and Delta County listed a variety of ways each entity is using the Internet to provide services. Other team members, including Internet providers, offered their input as well.
This information will be used to develop a community plan recommending the best ways to improve local broadband services, explained Tom Stephenson, community technology advisor with Connect Michigan.
Connect Michigan, a non-profit subsidiary of Connected Nation, partnered with the Michigan Public Service Commission to map and expand broadband Internet services in the state. Michigan is among 13 states participating in the program, said Stephenson.
Three goals of Connect Michigan are mapping, research and community planning and outreach toward broadband improvements, he said, adding Michigan has one of the most successful programs in the nation.
According to the Connect Michigan website, "Connect Michigan is leading the effort 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."
Stephenson said the initiative is looking to educate people about the benefits of broadband Internet so the technology can be adopted and used more by students, senior citizens, residents and businesses.
Forty percent of adults in Michigan use the Internet for online training and 67 percent of school children use the Internet for school work, he noted.
Stephenson added that 741,000 residents in the state - representing 19 percent of Michigan residents - do tele-work which is working via a computer. Ninety-four percent of these tele-workers use home broadband connection, he said.
Various counties in the state are in the process of developing community technology plans including Schoolcraft County, Marquette County, and the eastern U.P. counties, Stephenson said. Downstate Cheboygan County is the only county which has gone through the process to create an action plan and become a certified community.
According to the Connect Michigan website, best practices from community plans will be used to support the state's on-going strategic planning process.
Connect Michigan is partly funded by a U.S. Department of Commerce grant which is administered by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) State Broadband Initiative program.
According to the NTIA website, the NTIA is "the Executive Branch agency that is principally responsible for advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues.
NTIA's programs and policy-making focus largely on expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in America, expanding the use of spectrum by all users, and ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for continued innovation and economic growth."
The local team meeting was organized by the Delta County Economic Development Alliance (EDA). The group is scheduled to meet again on Dec. 4 to review the assessment and discuss strengths and weaknesses, said Vicki Schwab, EDA director.