STANTON — In rural Michigan, reliable broadband internet may be hard to come by, but that is not the case in Montcalm County.
On Wednesday, Dan Manning, a community technology adviser with Connect Michigan, presented the county with “Connected Community” certification under Connected Nation’s Connected Community Engagement Program.
According to Manning, the certification makes Montcalm County the 19th certified connected community in Michigan, and only the 64th within the United States.
“You’re recognized today for not only attending to the community’s future but helping to show the way for other communities across Michigan and across the country as well,” he said.
The formal recognition that Montcalm County demonstrates “excellence in broadband access, adoption and use” comes after months of extensive analysis by Connect Michigan of the county’s broadband and technology standing, as well as understanding its technology goals.
The results showed that 99 percent of residents in Montcalm County have access to 3Mbps broadband internet, and 69 percent have access to speeds as high as 100 Mbps.
The data collected featured an analysis of the number of internet options available to residents, including mobile broadband and access to fiber-based broadband. Also produced from the data were listed areas of improvement for the county, including expanding wifi networks in “downtown main street” areas, and adding digital literacy training courses at local libraries.
The announcement was made during Wednesday’s meeting of the Montcalm Economic Alliance, with 30 members in attendance.
Alliance leaders, as well The Right Place associates, are hoping the recognition will help promote a broadband-friendly environment to attract new business, residents and other opportunities.
“Receiving the Connected Community Award secures Montcalm County’s spot in the community and economic development arenas,” said Economic Alliance President Rob Spohr. “Broadband access, adoption and use have been vitally important to our strategy to continue to move soundly into the future.”
The Right Place and other economic development colleagues in West Michigan have been collaborating for more than a year with Connect Michigan and its “Connected Community” program to complete broadband connectivity and quality assessments for each of the 13 counties in that region.
Of those 13 counties, Montcalm County’s collective score ranked fourth, trailing only Ottawa, Muskegon and Kent counties.
The effort is tied to a larger initiative led by Connect Michigan, in partnership with the Michigan Public Service Commission, to ensure that all Michigan residents eventually have access to fast, reliable broadband.
The Alliance contracted with The Right Place two years ago — and is in its final year of a three-year contract — in an effort to create more economic growth in Montcalm County.
Rick Chapla, vice president of strategic initiatives for The Right Place, said the action plan generated by Connect Michigan will go a long way in continuing that effort.
“Without fast, reliable broadband access, West Michigan businesses cannot compete and will be left behind,” Chapla said. “We know that we need to make improvements in West Michigan’s broadband infrastructure, but the question is where and how. These Technology Action Plans answer those questions.”
The county’s goals from the new plan include establishing a small broadband work team to manage the Action Plan, expanding community literacy programs to include digital literacy training, assessing needs for additional public computer centers, developing and identifying a broadband training and awareness program for small and medium businesses, and improving the online presence of government.
One of the largest contributors to making Montcalm County a connected community is Casair, a wireless internet provider based in Stanton. The company operates in more than 14 counties providing wireless and fiber broadband internet, specializing in rural communities.
Steve Meinhardt started Casair in 1987, which has since expanded to include more than 160 employees and contractors in the field, more than 480 miles of fiber, 94 tower sites, and 16 new cell towers 250-feet and higher.
“This is truly a milestone accomplishment not only for Michigan itself but for the rural areas, where it matters most,” said Meinhardt of the county’s recognition. “We look forward to working with our community to build a strong connected future, and it sure is nice to have our hard work affirmed by the recognition our county is receiving. We are proud to be a part of Montcalm County and the hard work they are doing to bring economic stability to the stakeholders.”