Planning team working with Connect Michigan to increase internet access in Lake County

LAKE COUNTY — The process to hopefully increase access to high-speed internet in Lake County is underway.

The orientation meeting of the Lake County Community Planning Team was held Tuesday afternoon at Michigan Works in Baldwin. Thirty-five people attended the meeting, which introduced how the planning team is working to implement Connect Michigan’s broadband initiative and assess the county’s broadband infrastructure.

Connect Michigan is a nonprofit organization, in partnership with the Michigan Public Service Commission, tasked with facilitating the expansion of broadband access, adoption, and use throughout the state.

The turnout for the meeting was great, with a full house of people interested in expanding the county’s internet options, said Tom Stephenson, Community Technology Advisor for Connect Michigan.

“I was really happy to see the people there and it was a genuinely enthusiastic crowd,” Stephenson said. “They understand the value of high-speed internet and the need to increase access to broadband for the economy, job development and overall welfare of residents.”

Lake County is one of nine counties completing its assessment with Connect Michigan, with the goal of becoming a certified community. Newaygo County also is completing it assessment, while Osceola County has submitted its final plan and Mecosta County is a certified community.

The assessment looks at things like how local businesses, schools, government and other areas use computers and internet service. Once the information is gathered, it’s rated on a point system to see if it can be a certified community.

“We come in and examine the county as a group and our team makes recommendations to launch projects to fill those gaps,” he said. “Basically, being certified tells people that you are technologically advanced enough to move a business from Troy to Baldwin. It says ‘We’re just as good as the next guy.’”

Larry Lewis is the Michigan Connect champion for Lake County. Lewis is leading the charge to expand internet services for the area.

Without high-speed internet, the county can’t prosper, grow or move ahead, Lewis said.

“It’s vital to the area, not just a good move, absolutely vital,” Lewis said. “It’s important for our seniors, school, businesses, everything. If we’re going to grow, we have to have broadband. Dial up won’t do anymore.”

There are many services the county could access and improve upon if high-speed internet was available, Lewis said.

The Lake County Community Planning Team’s next meeting to discuss the Connect Michigan assessment will be held in about 30 days. A date has not yet been selected.

Lewis hopes the county can eventually become certified, even if it takes some time.

“We need this,” he said. “It might take 12 months, it might take 15 and it might take longer than that, but if we don’t start now it will never happen.”