Baldwin — The Lake County Broadband Committee has launched a new initiative to expand and improve high-speed internet access for all county residents, businesses, schools, healthcare facilities, and community organizations.

“We in Lake County must work together to provide our families and businesses with access to the critical resources and information they need,” said Larry Lewis, Lake County Internet Champion. “This work, begun in 2014, has been so important in expanding and improving internet services in Lake County. We must provide the means for all our children to learn, whether from home or in the classroom. The information superhighway must have an off-ramp so our small businesses can thrive by connecting to the global market. Access to quality internet provides our community and public safety organizations the ability to easily reach and respond to the needs of residents no matter where they live in the county.”

The Lake County Broadband team is working in partnership with the national nonprofit, Connected Nation, which has a mission to improve lives by identifying innovative solutions for expanding access, adoption, and use of broadband and its related technologies to all people. The committee is using CN’s Connected Community Engagement Program to update the 2015 Lake County Technology Action Plan.

As part of this effort, and to ensure a plan that accurately reflects the need across the area, the committee is asking every individual, business, and community organization in the county to fill out an access survey at 2020lakecounty.com.

"The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed a lot in health care, including how patients access their primary care provider," said Julie Tatko, Interim President & CEO at Baldwin Family Health Care. "With Family Health Care launching telehealth services in the early part of 2020, it's imperative that residents of Lake County have internet access for virtual health care visits."

According to Seth Wenger of Wenger Insurance Agency,100% of their data and voice is handled via broadband in the downtown Baldwin and Big Rapids offices.

"We utilize both Carr and Casair for redundancy," he said. "If my providers go down, my phone and computers no longer work and we are out of business."

“The more input we have from our county residents, businesses, and community organizations, the better this final plan will be,” said Lewis. “This plan will help us identify areas that have no internet access or need improved services, while developing immediate and long-term solutions for expanding that access. If there’s one thing the pandemic has shown us, we must equip everyone in the county with the tools and access they need to do various things, from teleworking to accessing telehealth options."

"This survey is an opportunity for us to improve the quality of life for everyone in Lake County,” he said.

The Connected Nation program has developed Technology Action Plans for more than 350 communities, counties, and regions across the country.

WHO is involved

The Lake County Broadband Committee is comprised of local community leaders from various sectors with a common mission of enhancing and expanding broadband access, adoption and use throughout the county for the benefit of residents and businesses. To that end, the Committee has partnered with Connected Nation Michigan and their “Connected Community” program to assess the present state of broadband in Lake County and establish a broadband planning process and plan to address our current and future broadband needs.

WHAT is being done

To perform an assessment of Lake County’s current broadband environment, the Committee will be conducting surveys of residents, businesses, and other organizations across the county. Responses to these surveys will help us better understand the existing resources and capabilities we now have to support our access, adoption and use of broadband technology in our homes and businesses. After a structured evaluation of this assessment, we’ll then develop appropriate action plans and projects to improve our broadband environment most effectively.

WHEN will this take place

Our Community Broadband Assessment and related surveys were launched Oct. 15, and continue into January 2021. Results from this work will be shared with the public, followed by additional work to develop a county-wide action plan to address identified areas of need.

HOW can you help

Your participation in the appropriate broadband survey and overall support of our efforts are very important in developing an accurate assessment of broadband availability and related needs in Lake County. To take the survey as a resident, a business owner or designated representatives of another organization, go to 2020LakeCounty.com and select the appropriate option.

Please share this information with your peers and encourage others to take our survey.