Connecting with the wider world

OSCEOLA COUNTY — While many residents and businesses in the county have access to the Internet, there are still some who struggle with finding a connection that is reliable, fast and offered for a price they can afford. Others choose not to have the service at all.

To help understand the needs of business owners and residents when it comes to connecting online, the members of the Osceola County Broadband Expansion Team are conducting a survey to collect information that will help provide high speed Internet at an affordable price to everyone.

Osceola County Community Development Coordinator Dan Massy said the data will be collected on July 31, assessed and offered to county-wide Internet providers.

“I’m looking forward to this,” said Massy about reviewing the survey results. “Hopefully, the Internet companies can create a business case to bring Internet out to people who do cannot access it or who cannot afford it.”

The survey, located online at www.osceola-county.org, offers 10 short and simple questions in which to reply. Participants will be asked the type of Internet service they utilize, if the service meets their needs, if it is affordable, if it is reliable and if it is as fast as desired. The survey also will ask questions concerning costs and company bundle packages.

Residents without access to the Internet can fill out the form manually. Copies will be available at all five Osceola County libraries and will be included with the summer tax bills that will be mailed on July 1, Massy added. Questions also pertain to those without a connection and those who travel to a location outside of the home or business to sign online. It is important those residents also return the survey, he said.

With the information expected to be collected from the survey, he said hopes to be able to improve access, speed, reliability and cost for Osceola County residents and business owners. There are about 9,200 occupied and about 4,400 vacant housing units in the county. The majority of the vacant units are seasonal homes, Massy added.

In September of last year, Internet accessibility in the county was discussed by Thomas Stephenson of Connect Michigan. The non-profit organization’s goal is to bring public and private together and expand broadband across the state.

Stephenson said an assessment of the county is complete, areas without access have been identified and possible solutions have been applied. Currently, 15 providers are listed as serving the county, including Tucker Communications, Inc., Charter Communications, Inc., and Verizon Wireless. Many areas have at least three providers to choose from, according to the Connection Michigan Website.

“Things have gotten better in Osceola County, but there are still underserved areas” said Stephenson.

He said 99 percent of the county has obtained Internet connections due to the expansion of several providers. Before, the percentage was at 52. New statistics will be revealed May 17.

With the help from the survey, Stephenson said he expects to identify clusters of need in Osceola County and hopes the need will be filled.

“It can be very effective if you can work with local providers,” he added.

One of the areas suffering from a lack of broadband coverage is near the village of Hersey, and village president John Calabrese said he has received comments from local residents who are frustrated about the lack of connection. He said he has tried to reach out to providers without luck.

“I’ve been using Charter inside the village and I’m satisfied with it, but I think that people outside of the village have a hard time getting the Internet. I’d like to see it expand,” said Calabrese, adding he believes the prices offered for online access are too expensive for most.

Also, he said there is a lack of Internet availability for campers and recreational visitors at Blodgett Landing, which he believes hampers business.

“It’s a service we want to offer to increase our guests,” Calabrese added.

As a test, Massy made the survey accessible on the county Website without notifying the public. In a short amount of time, he received more than a dozen responses and said he was surprised at what those small results revealed. At first, he predicted Internet access would be the largest problem, but it appears to be tied between speed and reliability.

“It’s basically all over the board,” he said, adding answers on customer access and satisfaction were about one-fourth, with other various answers filling the other three-quarters of replies. “Once we get more responses, we can divide it up and look at the data.”

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Posted by Karin Armbruster

Karin is the reporter for Osceola County’s Herald Review. She is the coordinator of the Health page, which runs in the weekend edition of the Pioneer. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8382 or by e-mail at karmbruster@pioneergroup.com.

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