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Barry County Chooses to be a ‘Connected’ Community

Barry County, MI. (November 28, 2011) - Barry County leaders have enrolled their community in a creative new program that seeks to stimulate demand in the local economy and enhance the quality of life for residents through increased access, adoption, and use of broadband.

Staff from Connect Michigan, the statewide nonprofit promoting broadband expansion, introduced Barry County leaders to the Connected Community Certification Program, an initiative that offers a comprehensive and localized way for communities to bridge the digital divide impacting many communities.

There are many communities in Barry County that do not have access to high-speed Internet service and in the areas where broadband is available cost is often an issue.

“Barry is a rural county with fantastic natural resources; however those same assets can pose a geographic hindrance to broadband accessibility,” said Valerie Byrnes, president of the Barry County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance. “Increasing accessibility to residents and businesses will enhance our quality of life through expanded educational options online, ability to do business from home, and accessible social media options that most individuals rely on.”

Within the last year, a grassroots committee from Irving Township began the process to assess the broadband access within the township. That effort spurred the same data collection in multiple other townships. Once the data was collected, the Barry County Economic Development Alliance (BCEDA) agreed to spearhead a committee to address accessibility needs countywide. The committee is facilitated by the BCEDA and includes representation from multiple partners within the community such as the Barry Community Foundation, local libraries, county commissioners, Pennock Health Services, public schools, and an Internet provider among others and is open to additional participation.

“Broadband is one of the infrastructures of the future,” said Governor Rick Snyder in his Special Message to the Legislature on Infrastructure, presented in October. In the Governor’s White Paper of the presentation, he cited data from the Connect Michigan Residential Technology Survey to point out that the, “use of high-speed broadband is also a game-changer for our citizens.”

“The results of the residential broadband survey allows Michigan stakeholders to have more detailed information available for broadband planning strategies as we move forward,” said Robin Ancona, director of the Telecommunications Division, Michigan Public Service Commission.

Broadband is a critical resource for economic inclusion. In 2010, Connect Michigan conducted a random survey of over 800 businesses statewide. Survey findings estimated that 71,000 (30% of) Michigan businesses do not use broadband. Additionally, the findings also indicated that broadband-connected businesses in Michigan averaged $200,000 more in median annual revenues than their unconnected counterparts.

The Connected Community 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 thorough community assessments.

Additionally, Barry County will benefit from participation in the Connect Michigan Community Engagement Program, which guides communities through an assessment of their overall broadband and technology progression, using criteria that parent organization Connected Nation has developed as a part of the “community certification” model. The program helps train regional team leaders and supports the formation of community planning teams made up of various sector representatives.

“The Barry County Economic Development Alliance is working with a multitude of partners countywide to facilitate the process of bringing high-speed Internet access to all parts of our communities,” said Byrnes.  “Our partnership with Connect Michigan is an opportunity to leverage a model that is focused on exactly that — bringing high-speed Internet access to a rural community. We are looking to Connect Michigan to help us speed our process to full implementation through a focused approach based on the successes of other communities.”

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