Internet survey data being analyzed; county and partners prepare for next steps
Since June 2021, Ottawa County – in collaboration with Merit Network, Inc. – has been surveying area residents and businesses to capture a more accurate picture of local high-speed internet access and connection speeds. This data includes – but is not limited to – households with access to broadband and those without; households struggling to pay for broadband; and the reliability of existing broadband networks. This survey and data collection effort is part of a larger Comprehensive Digital Inclusion Strategy, a four-part initiative to ultimately establish universal access to affordable and reliable broadband throughout Ottawa County.
Next steps: Analyzing the data, developing solutions
Merit Network has been diligently analyzing and compiling the data collected during last year’s surveying efforts. Soon Merit will be presenting its findings to the Ottawa County Broadband Data Collection Steering Committee, Ottawa County officials, and Urban Wireless. With report in hand, Urban Wireless – with support from Ottawa County – will then develop a feasibility analysis, a preliminary engineering design, and a cost model.
Public-private partnerships are key
The Digital Inclusion Strategy will also be heavily dependent upon the development of strong public/private partnerships. “With a project of this magnitude, Ottawa County cannot go it alone,” said Paul Sachs. “We need to partner with internet service providers, fiber providers and equipment providers among others to bring this plan to fruition.” Some preliminary discussions have been had with companies operating in the region; as the weeks go by, the County anticipates more companies will express interest in the initiative.
Network managed as a public-private partnership
Once the broadband network is developed, Ottawa County expects it will have an ownership interest. However, this does not mean the County is interested in operating its own broadband network. The County’s interest would be that of deploying and owning the infrastructure, such as conduits to facilitate fiber lines, and towers where wireless is expected to be deployed. This infrastructure would then be leased to any providers that wish to sell their service in Ottawa County. Pursuing this model has potential benefits:
• It greatly reduces the amount of capital a service provider has to expend to provide broadband service in Ottawa County.
• It would likely keep prices reasonable by providing multiple service options and creating competition among the providers.
How will this work be funded?
Funding will come from a variety of resources. There are numerous grants, including ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) and the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), just to name a few. The specific grants for which Ottawa County is eligible depends in large part upon the results of its data collection. It is also not beyond the realm of possibility that the County could look to its constituents for some contributions.
For more information on Ottawa County’s Digital Inclusion Strategy and how to participate, check the Digital Inclusion website often or contact the Ottawa County Department of Strategic Impact at firstname.lastname@example.org.