There are many ways in which broadband and related technologies can improve the quality of life of Michigan residents, businesses, institutions, and communities. Many community anchor institutions (CAIs), such as government offices, healthcare providers, libraries, and schools, as well as private businesses, offer online tools and services for their constituents. Still, many times potential users and beneficiaries do not access these online tools/services, and this may happen for a variety of reasons. Some may not have access to broadband at the speeds required; others may have the access but lack the digital literacy skills or may feel uncomfortable using online tools for such sensitive topics (like healthcare or banking information). Still others may have both the access and the skills but are unaware that such tools exist. Telemedicine, online education, and e-government applications cannot improve quality of life if they are unused, unknown, or unrecognized.
The lack of awareness for online digital tools creates a challenge for community anchor institutions: If only a small share of their constituents demand access via online tools, then they will use their oftentimes limited budgets toward other goals. For the consumer, if their institutions only offer minimal online tools, then there is less incentive to learn how to use the internet, and the value proposition of subscribing to home broadband service diminishes for them. As such, there are requirements for both sides of the “equation”: Anchor institutions must see that there are benefits and build user-friendly tools that benefit their constituents, and those constituents must then overcome the aforementioned barriers and begin using those tools so the institutions can see how strong the demand is for such online tools.
If no one uses a school’s online calendar tool, for example, there will be no incentive to improve it. If, on the other hand, a larger share of parents begin using that tool and demanding greater capability from the tools, then that school will have a tool that is more beneficial to its constituent families and will have a greater impact for the school, students, and families.
Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) “Connected Anchor Institutions: A Broadband Action Plan:” http://www.shlb.org/action-plan.
Alcona County, Michigan
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Alcona County, with a population of about 11,000, is bringing their community and their technology assets together to expand education, healthcare, business, banking, entertainment, and more through broadband in the same ways many urban areas do.
The Leadership Alcona Technology Expo began as a part of the Technology Action Plan the county developed with Connect Michigan. The need for better broadband brought Connect Michigan to the county’s attention and put the Expo on the schedule. Leadership Alcona, a volunteer group specializing in community stewardship and local business advancement, took on the project.
The Leadership Alcona Technology Expo brings community leaders from law enforcement, banking, education, healthcare, and small business together to show residents, students, seniors, and business owners the opportunities technology provides and how to access those opportunities safely.
The goal of the Expo is to not only bring community members and resources together, but also garner more interest in improving broadband. “We’re really pushing to show that there is a need,” said Marlena Mac Neill, spokesperson for Leadership Alcona. “Whether there’s sparse population or not, we still want to be connected. We want to connect with the rest of the world just like anybody else.”
Keweenaw County, Michigan
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The Keweenaw Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (KCVB) in Keweenaw, Michigan, is making vacationing easier than ever. In a popular, rural vacation destination of Michigan with large parts untouched by broadband, information about camping, lodging, restaurants, and events has formerly been scattered. In response, KCVB implemented an application that puts all of Keweenaw’s resources in one place online—and you don’t even need an internet connection to use it.
The Keweenaw attracts sportsmen, skiers, hikers, families, campers, and outdoor adventurers of all types. This rural expanse is a large part of the attraction, yet it also fragments broadband access in the area. Visitors come to unplug and get away from their devices; however, inaccessibility makes planning a vacation itinerary more difficult. KCVB solved this problem by implementing a mobile app which, once downloaded, can be accessed even without an online connection.
The app went live in 2015 with approximately 2,500 downloads projected for the year. In only four months, it surpassed 3,000, including tourists and residents alike.
The app offers information on lodging, campsites, restaurants, nature trails, historic sites, events, shops, and more. When the user is not connected to the internet, they can still use the app for turn-by-turn directions and to contact businesses. “They can literally touch the phone and the number comes up, so they don’t have to write numbers down,” said Amanda Oppe, Social Media and Marketing Manager for KCVB.
KCVB’s app was designed with visitors, residents, businesses, and Keweenaw’s natural charms in mind. Push notifications go through the app to the user to inform them of special deals that businesses are hosting or to warn them of oncoming snowstorms. With the app now in place, KCVB plans to implement more features to make vacationing, buying, selling, and generally visiting this area easier.