Survey: Over 50% of Lake County residents can't access internet

Results show users want something more reliable

A recent broadband survey conducted in Lake County revealed that 54% of residents have no access to the internet. (File photo)

A recent broadband survey conducted in Lake County revealed that 54% of residents have no access to the internet. (File photo)

LAKE COUNTY — A recent broadband survey conducted in Lake County revealed that 54% of residents have no access to the internet.

“That is a number we are trying to improve on,” Connect Michigan Program representative Tom Stephenson told the Lake County board of commissioners during a recent meeting.

“Two years ago, only 3% of the population had access to internet service,” he said. “Now we are up to 43%, so we have made some inroads. We still have a long way to go.”

Of those that do have internet, the survey — conducted by Broadband Solutions, Inc. — showed, 19% have fixed wireless connections, which includes cable internet, fiber optics or fixed wireless, and 20% have dial up or satellite service.

“The biggest problem is that service is not available, and what is available is at a high cost,” Stephenson said. “When it is available, it is too expensive for a lot of folks. Right now, in Lake County, we are paying a big dollar for it compared to other counties."

Stephenson said the survey showed that even though customers may pay a higher cost in Lake County, that is not the No. 1 complaint.

“The biggest complaint is that the speeds are too slow, and the connections are unreliable,” he said. “They are more concerned about the quality of the service than anything else. The survey showed 94% of users want to see something more reliable.”

Steps have been taken to improve the internet access and reliability in the county, Stephenson said.

AT&T received a contract to bring broadband service to the are several years ago, he said. The first round was the northeast section and the second round was the west side, along with Osceola County.

“Point Broadband, formerly Casair, has received a lot of funding to do a fiber optic buildout on the east side," he continued. “Great Lakes Energy is working on a fiber optic buildout. So, the build out has already started to some extent.”

He added that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Point Broadband did a build out for the schools to accommodate the virtual learning. At the same time, they agreed to drop a line for fiber optic cable through the middle of Idelwild, giving them access to internet service.

“The people are signing up, and they (internet providers) are starting to tie in a lot of businesses to the fiber optic network along M-37,” he said.

The Connect Michigan committee is doing some new mapping which will be ready around the end of September, he said, that will show them how the networks have expanded and what still needs to be done. From there the committee will work out a plan to address those needs.

“We are making progress, but it is going to take several years to build out,” Stephenson said. “In the next couple of years there will be more options available.”

Stephenson said there is more funding becoming available to help with addressing the internet issue across the state. In addition, the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a Federal Communications Commission program is available to help families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EBB will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households.

For more information on how to sign up for the program, visit fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit.

County administrator Tobi Lake said the American Rescue Plan funds can also be used to spread broadband to unserved and underserved areas, however with the guidelines from the treasury of 100 mps download and 20 mps upload speeds, the funds won’t go very far.