What is Broadband and Why Should You Care About It?
If in the past few years you have heard the staff at Market Van Buren talk about their big goals for the community, you have almost certainly heard us mention countywide broadband access. While this is a topic we are passionate about, many folks in our community do not know what broadband is or why it is important. So, we have written this blog post as a way to introduce the basics of broadband and get our community excited about the future we are working to build.
What is Broadband?
When we talk about broadband, we are talking about high-speed internet. However, before we can talk about what qualifies as high-speed internet, we need to discuss how internet speed is measured.
Internet is generally measured in a unit of megabits per second (Mbps). This unit is used to measure internet connection's upload and download speeds; the individual measures of these speeds determines how fast an internet connection is.
Upload speed impacts how quickly content moves from your computer to other computers or networks. For example, upload speed is an important factor in determining whether your video lags for other people in a Zoom call or how quickly a student can submit an online homework assignment. Download speed determines how quickly you can access content that is coming from another computer or network. For example, download speed determines whether you can stream high-definition videos without buffering and how long a webpage takes to load when you try to access it.
The State of Michigan's guidelines for its ongoing mapping efforts define the minimally acceptable speed for broadband infrastructure as 100 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads. With internet at this speed, the average household can do most of the gaming, streaming, and other internet-based activities desired without issue.
However, such speeds are not fast enough for many businesses. This is especially true for manufacturers who are increasingly relying on highly interconnected smart-automation machines. For businesses with such high internet needs, the target minimum internet speed is 100 Mbps by 100 Mbps.
According to the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office "more than 212,000 households in our state lack the opportunity to access a high-speed internet connection and another additional 865,000 households face barriers related to affordability, adoption, or digital literacy. Taken together, this means that approximately 31% of Michigan households do not have an affordable, reliable high-speed internet connection that meets their needs."
Why Should You Care?
During the Covid-19 Pandemic, we learned how important it was to have fast and reliable service - especially with the many adults working from home and the majority of students transitioning to online schooling. Although much of life has returned to "normal" following the pandemic, many adults are now working from home permanently, students are expected to be able to access the internet in order to complete their homework, and telehealth medicine has increased in prevalence.
There is more than just antidotal evidence that broadband matters to our communities. Multiple studies have been conducted regarding broadband internet and its affect on Michigan citizens.
For example, the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office reports that:
"Students with high-speed, home internet access have an overall grade point average of 3.18. This is significantly higher than the average 2.81 GPA for students with no home access and 2.75 average for student with only cell phone access.
Increased access to the internet can help address issues of isolation among older adults. Studies have shown that isolation is associated with worse health outcomes and even premature death among adults age 50 and over.
Effective use of telemedicine can reduce hospitalizations of nursing home patients and reduce health care costs.
Small businesses that have websites have higher annual revenues and are more likely to have recently hired one or more employees than similar businesses that aren't online. Those that use social media weekly are three times more likely to have hired recently than those that don't.
A study of manufacturers found that 40% said they were able to add new customers and 57% said they saved money because of their high-speed internet connection.
Farmers who gain high-speed internet access experience an average 6% increase in farm revenue.
Having a home broadband connection gives households an estimated economic impact of $1,850 per year."
When our community has access to high-speed, reliable internet, everyone benefits. With increased access to education to telehealth resources to greater availability of employment opportunities, broadband access levels the playing field between urban and rural communities, empowers our communities' residents to reach their full potential, and makes our communities places where residents live better lives.
What are We Doing About It?
The first step toward ensuring every home and business has access to high-speed internet starts with understanding where internet access is and is not available. Through a collaborative effort with local internet service providers, municipal officials, and County leadership, the first step of mapping broadband availability in Van Buren County is now underway.
In late March 2022, Market Van Buren hosted a meeting of municipal leaders to discuss Van Buren County's ongoing mapping efforts and opportunities for collaboration in supporting broadband expansion. The meeting included township, village, city, and County leadership from Van Buren County, as well as representatives from Allegan, Barry, Berrien, and Cass counties. Representatives from local internet service providers also attended to share their expertise and discuss opportunities for collaboration with local communities.
On April 4, 2022, DCS Technology Design began a boots-on-the-ground Broadband Network Survey in Van Buren County. The final product of this effort will be a GIS-based, parcel-level map that records which parcels of land in Van Buren County have high-speed internet access and which do not.
As of mid-May, mapping efforts in Porter and Decatur township were completed, and additional townships were underway. Mapping efforts are expected to conclude in June 2022, and a full report on survey findings will be released in early July 2022.
The report generated by DCS Technology Design will serve as the foundation upon which the Van Buren County Board of Commissioners determines how to allocate available funding to support the expansion of broadband access. As of mid-May 2022, roughly $7 million in ARPA funding had been allocated by the Board of Commissioners to support broadband expansion in Van Buren County.
After a plan to deploy ARPA funding is developed, Market Van Buren will work with local partners to pursue additional funding opportunities at the state and federal levels.
You can stay up to date on the ongoing mapping efforts by following Market Van Buren and Van Buren County on Facebook; there you will see regular updates about which communities are in the process of being mapped.
In July, the final mapping report will be released, and the Board of Commissioners will begin to consider the process for distributing funding to support broadband expansion. The findings will be available on the County's website.