Broadband Expansion Efforts
In March of 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocated roughly $14.6 million to Van Buren County. One of the primary allowable uses for these funds is supporting the expansion of affordable broadband access. In the months following the passage of ARPA, the Van Buren County Internet Task Force began to meet regularly to discuss available funding and a path forward.
In January 2022, the Van Buren County Board of Commissioners voted to allocate $7 million of ARPA funds to support the expansion of rural broadband in Van Buren County. While $7 million is a sizable investment in broadband expansion, it will not be enough to fully cover or subsidize the cost of bringing broadband service to every unserved and underserved parcel in Van Buren County. The County will pursue additional funding sources as it is essential to be judicious in the allocation of these limited ARPA funds.
Van Buren County desires to make the most informed decisions about how to allocate ARPA funds in support of rural broadband expansion; therefore, it is essential to have accurate, detailed maps of broadband infrastructure and availability so that funding can be appropriately and effectively allocated within the community.
Current Efforts & Timeline
In February 2022, the Board of Commissioners approved a contract with a third party contractor, DCS Technology, to develop a parcel-level, GIS-based map of broadband availability and infrastructure within Van Buren County. DCS Technology has previously developed similar maps for Washtenaw and Leelanau counties through a "boots on the ground" survey. DCS Technology will begin its survey efforts in early April 2022; surveyors will be working in the field through June, and a final report on survey findings will be available in early July 2022.
Why Does High-Speed Internet Access Matter?
Increased internet access has a wide number of benefits for a community. Generally speaking, it allows for community members to enjoy increased access to educational, healthcare, and economic opportunities. More specifically, according to the State of Michigan's Office of High-Speed Internet, increased internet access can provide the following benefits:
- "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."
Please direct questions regarding broadband expansion or mapping efforts to [email protected].
Broadband Expansion in The News
- VB County commits $7 million for broadband expansion | Feb. 13, 2022 | South Haven Tribune
- Van Buren County Aiming For Full Broadband Coverage In Five Years | March 30, 2022 | 94.9 WSJM
- 1,300 miles of road will be driven in effort to bring broadband to all of Van Buren County | March 30, 2022 | Mlive
- Van Buren County Mapping Broadband Availability, On The Road to Improving It | March 30, 2022 | Moody on the Market
- Van Buren County to begin broadband internet survey | April 1, 2021 | Herald-Palladium