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Need better Internet or just Internet accessibility in general?

Defiance County officials are working on it, but they need residents help

Defiance County, in partnership with Lit Communities, is conducting a county-wide broadband survey. The survey, which takes about 10 minutes to complete, will be used to put together a connectivity plan for the county to help increase Internet accessibility. To access the survey, visit Defiance County Commissioner David Kern said that the survey has been discussed for awhile, and now is the opportune time for it.

“The timing is coming to fruition now with the dollars through the federal government,” he explained. “Federal and state governments have got grant opportunities we can tap into as well. In order to tap into those, you have to show you are committed and can use those dollars. … Now was the best time to get this (survey out) – to show we can get this done and we are as close to utilize these dollars as possible.” The county is using a portion of its American Rescue Plan Art funds to conduct the broadband survey. Additional funding is being sought to fix any broadband connectivity problems the survey finds.

Broadband is high-speed Internet access that differs from dial up service. Broadband provides not only a higher-speed of data transmission but is consistent and reliable. Having reliable broadband service is important for a community for many reasons. A White House brief from the Council of Economic Advisors, pointed out that there are “better labor market outcomes” where American workers can access broadband Internet. Broadband also has health benefits as it can help provide remote access to various health care services and information. Despite the benefits, it is estimated that 30 percent of Americans in suburban and rural areas do not have reliable or any access to broadband services, according to Consumer Reports. Kern said that county officials know where some of the holes in broadband services are locally, but really need community input to accurately pinpoint where the connectivity challenges are. Each township in the county will be treated as its own zone and then problem areas will be narrowed down from there, based on survey input.

“The survey will last another five months,” Kern said in May. “We are hoping we will have all the data we need so we will be accurate to a 95-98 percent level in three months. The last three months of the survey we hope to continue to get (survey) results in, but we would like the bulk of responses in the first three months so we can come up with a battle plan.” Kern said a couple hundred surveys were completed in the first few days it was available “which is a good start.” “The more the better though,” he said. “People are understanding the survey and what it is asking for.” Survey takers must be at least 18 years of age as those who take the survey will be asked for their address for GPS purposes to find connectivity challenged areas. The survey also be looking at connectivity speed so individuals should take the surveys on normal days and times when they would be on the Internet. Officials also have identified key stakeholders and entities in the county to ensure their input is received. Those stakeholders include those in agriculture, first responders, schools and major industries.

Kern pointed out the ag community uses a lot of technology such as precision planting. First responders need dependable Internet to communicate from scenes. Students need dependable Internet for homework, and businesses need broadband for a variety of reasons. “It’s vitally important,” Kern said of broadband service. “Obviously, some people have quarrels with technologies, but it’s here to stay. To keep up, you have to move with the times. Having good broadband is vital for economic development. (There’s) billing by using a tap of the phone, ordering for inventory purposes. It (broadband) is enticing for new industries. That is a key player where businesses decide to relocate. If you don’t have good Internet, good connectivity, you’re not an option.” Kern said broadband is just as vital on a personal level. It helps people stay in touch with family and friends. Students can do home work on sick or snow days without having to drive to the nearest McDonald’s to use their WiFi. It also helps people unwind as with gaming.

By the end of the year, county officials hope to have all the results of the survey. “We hope we will have the zones (with connectivity challenges) targeted where the dollars can be more effectively put to use and start the game plan,” Kern said. “It will be well into next year before you see any physical work.” He said the companies they have partnered with – Lit Communities and Private Network Enterprise (who is working on the wireless aspect) – will be active throughout the process. All parties will be looking to secure grants to help fund solutions to any broadband challenges the county has. The survey, though, is the key. “We really need to hone into the survey,” Kern said. “The more results we have the better. The better idea we will have on where we need to focus.” He said without community support, the survey “will not be nearly as accurate as we need it to be.”

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