Berrien County needs resident survey participation to assist in broadband internet expansion efforts

BERRIEN COUNTY — In establishing their Operational Objectives for 2019-2020, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners included “to focus on support and improvement of County infrastructure, including but not limited to staff and financial resources being utilized to pursue all options available to bring high speed Internet in the unserved areas of the county.”

With that, Commissioners Jim Curran, Teri Freehling, and Ezra Scott were appointed to work with other agencies on the subject, and the Berrien County Broadband Internet Task Force was formed.

The task force has identified that data demonstrating the need are necessary in order to satisfy requests to the federal government for funding. To obtain that data, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners contracted with Merit Network, Inc., and is seeking countywide input from the residents in the form of a survey.

The task force knows that in some areas in Berrien County, high-speed Internet is not available. In order to bridge this “digital divide,” they need to gain a better picture of who has access in Berrien County. A survey was developed by Merit Network that will provide accurate data regarding which properties do and do not currently have Internet access. Information gathered will only be used to support broadband Internet expansion efforts and will aid the task force in seeking grant funding to increase broadband availability in Berrien County.

The Berrien County Board of Commissioners urged residents to participate in this survey, once it is available, to help measure broadband access. Their goal is full connectivity provisioning for all of Berrien County by the year 2024.

“Now, more than ever, Broadband Internet is an essential and crucial service to those who live, learn and work in, as well as visit Berrien County. Understanding which households are connected to the Internet at broadband speeds (25/3 mbps) is the first step in building support to seek funding to increase access in our area. Providing high-speed broadband Internet service throughout Berrien County has become a priority for the Berrien County Commission as well as leaders throughout southwest Michigan, like the Pokagon Fund,” said R. McKinley Elliot, chairman, Berrien County Board of Commissioners.

The survey is being conducted through a partnership with the Michigan Moonshot initiative, that aims to bridge the digital divide in Michigan. With the participation of Berrien County residents, these organizations will collect the necessary data to develop a realistic representation of current broadband coverage and speeds. Accurate, unbiased data will assist in drawing necessary state and federal funds to the community, officials said.

Residents are being asked to visit MichiganMoonshot.org/Berrien to complete the brief survey, whether they pay for Internet access at their property or not. The survey results will provide granular information about residents’ broadband speeds and availability to aid the task force in gathering the necessary data for grant applications.

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