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'An essential utility': Ottawa Co. needs public input to improve broadband internet access in 1st phase of major initiative

"The pandemic that hit last year definitely highlighted and elevated the inequities of that access, especially out into our more rural areas," said Paul Sachs.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — The pandemic has changed our lives in many ways, but it also gave us perspective on how to do things in a new way.

Ottawa County said over the past year they've learned how important it is to make broadband internet accessible to everyone. And now the county is now starting a major initiative to make that a reality.

Ottawa County officials have created a long-term, four-phase initiative called the Ottawa County Digital Inclusion Strategy.

County leaders say the first phase is the most important, and they need the community's help to make it a success. 

"We're working to address access, so we want to know everything about access challenges from everyone across the county," said Paul Sachs, Director of the Planning and Performance Improvement Department.

"Broadband access really needs to be treated as an essential utility," he added.

The Ottawa County Data Collection Steering Committee, formed by the county's Planning and Performance Improvement Department, has been tasked with the collection of countywide internet-accessibility information that will be used to inform decision-making to effectively address existing gaps in digital inclusion. 

The committee is composed of representatives from the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, Lakeshore Advantage, Spectrum Health, Grand Valley State University, Farm Bureau, Holland BPW, local units of government and several other key individuals.  

"The pandemic that hit last year definitely highlighted and elevated the inequities of that access, especially out into our more rural areas," said Sachs.

Here are some of the questions that Sachs explained are part of the survey:

How is the access for you?                                                                           

How are the speeds?                                                                                   

How many people are in your home?                                                           

How many devices do you use?                                                                 

What do you use the internet for?                                                             

How's the affordability?

This survey is the first of the four phases in the overall initiative to make broadband internet accessible to everyone in the county, so the county says participation is extremely important. 

"The time has come to really put a stake in the ground that this is of upmost importance," said Sachs. "We're going to drive to make change, but we need public input to help us make the right change."

Sachs said fixing these broadband inequities is also essential as the world solidifies living in the digital age. 

Sachs explains that they need your input even if you have quality internet access, because the initiative is also focused on addressing digital literacy. 

"Things like knowing how to utilize internet equipment and access the internet," he said. "We really just want to equip people with the skills through our non-profits and libraries to learn necessary skills because without them broadband internet is not going to be accessible to them."

The survey collection started on June 7 and will go until September 17.

"We need broadband to advance our social and economic opportunities in the future," said Sachs. "The digital age is where we are, and it's where we're going."

There are several ways to participate in the survey. To find the option that works best for you, just head to the county's broadband information website by clicking here

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