BOYNE CITY — Charlevoix County was recognized Wednesday as the first locale nationally to be certified as a “Connected” community under Connected Nation’s Connected community engagement program.

The Connected program, led by the non-profit’s state affiliates, supports the building of a comprehensive action plan for a connected community by reviewing the technology landscape, developing regional partnerships, establishing local teams, and conducting a thorough community assessment of broadband access, adoption, and use.

“We congratulate Charlevoix County on this milestone achievement,” said Connected Nation President and COO Tom Ferree. “The hard work of local leaders in this effort will pay off for all area residents for many years to come.”

The Charlevoix Broadband Action Plan presented at a certification event at Boyne City High School includes results of a months-long assessment undertaken by the Charlevoix County Community Engagement Team. It contains specific recommendations of projects to expand digital literacy, build awareness for the benefits of broadband, assist businesses with Web sites and social media, and improving the online presence of local governments, among other institutions. Achieving Connected certification gives a community an avenue to discuss its success and pursue opportunities as a recognized, technologically advanced community.

“Charlevoix County can be proud to be the first community that has completed the broadband certification process offered by Connected Nation,” said Michigan Public Service Commission Chairman John D. Quackenbush, who was at the event to help present the award. “Joining together, they determined that the benefits of broadband would make this community a more attractive one — a community with a better business environment for economic development, improved healthcare, enhanced education, and an efficient government.”

Northern Lower Michigan has historically had limited options for broadband services due to natural topographical barriers and a highly dispersed population base. A major step forward in closing the digital divide came when officials enrolled in Connected earlier this year.

“In this day and age, high-speed Internet is absolutely critical. It is no longer a luxury and it is essential for any kind of business growth,” said Andy Hayes, president of the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance. “No one can grow a business and no one will locate a business that depends on high-speed Internet access to an area without this vital utility. Working with organizations that can help us build that critical mass is essential to our economic development strategy.”

Dozens of communities across the nation have joined the Connected program to enhance the economic, educational, healthcare, and quality of life opportunities that come with increased broadband access, adoption, and use. The program is designed to be scalable so that the assessment is applicable in rural and urban communities of any size. It is also designed to be self-serviceable through a user-friendly online portal allowing the community to work at its own pace.

“We have introduced this program in dozens of communities across the country and are already seeing it produce amazing results,” said Ferree. “The certification allows communities to stand out as tech-friendly and innovative, and a good place to be for residents and businesses.”

In order to determine if businesses and residents are maximizing the benefits from using high-speed Internet technologies, there is a need to determine the current state of technology before identifying gaps. In response to this need, Connected Nation developed the Connected program to help guide a community, using criteria that Connected Nation has developed as a community certification model that looks at objective criteria such as broadband availability, speeds, competition, middle mile access, and broadband use. When a community excels in these areas, it is qualified to be a Connected Certified Community.

The Connected methodology has a 4-step process that consists of:
* Identification and empowerment of a community team leader (local champion) and creation of a community team composed of a diverse group of local residents from various sectors of the economy including education, government, healthcare, private sector, and libraries.
* Assessment of community technology resources guided by Connected Nation’s Connected portal and based on adoption, access, and use of broadband.
* Development of a community technology plan and implementation of recommended actions that will lead to community certification as a Connected community.
* Once a community is certified, it has an avenue to discuss its success and pursue opportunities as a recognized, technologically advanced community.

Connected Nation is an organization committed to bringing affordable high-speed Internet and broadband-enabled resources to all Americans. Connected Nation effectively raises the awareness of the value of broadband and related technologies by developing coalitions of influencers and enablers for improving technology access, adoption, and use.

Connected Nation works with consumers, community leaders, states, technology providers and foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop and implement technology expansion programs with core competencies centered on a mission to improve digital inclusion for people and places previously underserved or overlooked.

Connected Nation developed the Connected community engagement program to help guide a community through an assessment of its overall broadband and technology status. Connected Certified Communities have measurably demonstrated their proficiency for effective access, adoption, and use of broadband supported technologies. Connected Nation through its partners provides a national platform for recognizing those communities that excel across these important benchmarks. Funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, this effort is part of the State Broadband Initiative.

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