Broadband survey finds lack of access for Berrien County residents

BERRIEN COUNTY — The internet is an important resource for connecting people to the information and skills they need to succeed in a digital world. A recent survey suggests that many Berrien County residents lack access to that resource.

The Berrien County Board of Commissioners learned the results of a county-wide broadband survey conducted by Ann Arbor-based research group Merit Network during Thursday’s Zoom meeting.

The survey — sanctioned by the Berrien County Broadband Internet Task Force — showed that 35.7 percent of Berrien County residents polled have no internet connectivity whatsoever. In addition, just 35.7 percent of county residents polled have access to broadband internet speeds while 28.5 percent indicated they have some connectivity at speeds lower than broadband.

The findings stand in stark contrast to the Federal Communication Commission’s most recent report on the county’s broadband connection. The FCC defines high-speed internet as 25 megabits per second download and three Mbps upload.

“Fifty-two percent fewer homes have access to broadband internet speeds within our survey compared to standard FCC measurements,” said Pierette Renee Dagg, Merit Network’s director of marketing and communications. “21 percent fewer homes have some connectivity but the speeds are lower than broadband speeds, and 31 percent more homes have no internet connectivity whatsoever than is suggested by FCC maps.”

Of the Berrien County residents that have no internet access, 86 percent reported that no services are available at their address and 12 percent stated that the price for service is too high. 72 percent of residents with no internet access indicated that they would be willing to pay between $26 and $100 for service, indicating that the majority of those residents would pay for internet service at their properties if available.

While the survey indicates that the cities of Niles and Buchanan have broadband — 92 percent of residents polled reported having at least some broadband access — Niles and Buchanan Townships were not so fortunate. The study showed that 20 percent of Niles Township and 76 percent of Buchanan Township has no broadband access.

Weesaw Township had the lowest reported access in the county with 82 percent of residents polled lacking broadband access.

“Broadband is critical for a community’s ability to thrive and be competitive for lots of reasons,” said Ben Fineman, president of the Michigan Broadband Alliance. “Not just student success, but also economic development, retaining talent and having employment opportunities, especially since work from home is here to stay and is much more important than it has been before.”

The survey’s results will be used by the county to apply for state and federal grants in an effort to deliver high speed internet to the county’s underserved areas. The BOCs goal is full connectivity provisioning for all of Berrien County by the year 2024.

“We need to sit down and have conversations with our community leaders with those municipalities,” said Teri Sue Freehling, Eighth District Commissioner and Broadband Internet Task Force member. “Our hope is to do some town halls to relay the results of the survey to as many municipalities and community leaders that we can to gain the momentum needed to figure out the next steps.”

Complete results of the study can be found here.

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