St. Clair County Embraces the Connected Community Program

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PORT HURON — St. Clair County leaders have enrolled their community in an innovative program that seeks to boost the local economy and quality of life for residents though increased access, adoption, and use of broadband.

Staff from Connect Michigan, the statewide nonprofit promoting broadband expansion, is leading St. Clair County leaders through the steps of the new “Connected” community certification program that offers a comprehensive and localized way for communities to bridge the digital divide impacting many communities. The kickoff planning meeting was held in May at the St. Clair County Administration Building in Port Huron.

St. Clair County is located in eastern lower Michigan on the Lake Huron shoreline and St. Clair River, directly across from Canada. Current broadband availability in the county is below the state average, at 88 percent at 768Kbps speed and 81 percent at 3 Mbps, and well below other southeast Michigan counties in their region.

Several smaller communities in the county are struggling with reliable access to broadband, which has prompted strong participation in the new program by local townships and villages. St. Clair County also is challenged with cellular and wireless interference from Canadian towers, which often results in Canadian surcharges on their monthly bills that need to be reversed.

To take a major step toward increasing broadband availability, officials decided to enroll in the Connected community certification program through Connect Michigan.

“We are excited to partner with Connect Michigan in this comprehensive program,” said Lori Eschenburg, a planner with the Metropolitan Planning Commission and team champion. “Our goal in St. Clair County is to expand affordable broadband coverage to our underserved communities. Access to affordable broadband service is critical to St. Clair County’s future, with implications for education, public safety, and economic development.”

The Connected certification program entails building a comprehensive action plan for developing a technology-ready community by reviewing the technology landscape, developing regional partnerships, establishing local teams, and conducting a thorough community assessment.

Twelve individuals representing the collaborating communities attended the initial kickoff meeting to share their perspectives on why broadband is important and to provide updates on broadband development activities.

Action items identified from the meeting included:
* Identifying and adding team members
* Gathering data on existing local public computing centers and digital literacy programs
* Assessing USDA Community Connect grants for applicability to St. Clair County
* Conducting a survey of township governments regarding broadband access and speeds
* Establishing a future meeting schedule

As the designated entity for broadband mapping and planning in the state of Michigan, Connect Michigan is a public-private partnership between the Michigan Public Service Commission and Connected Nation to work with local governments, businesses, and citizens in the goal of increasing broadband service in the state’s underserved areas. For more information about what Connect Michigan is doing to accelerate technology in Michigan’s communities, visit www.connectmi.org.

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