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Rural Areas Getting on the Grid

With populations spread throughout farms, rural villages, small suburbs, and everywhere in between, concentrating community development efforts in rural areas presents an ongoing challenge. Getting the word out to every corner of a rural community and uniting constituents in an integrated push for increased funding, new roads, new technology, and other needs takes time and continuous support. A number of rural communities engaged in the Connected Community program are continuously making strides toward expanding broadband and bringing reliable, affordable Internet to homes far off the beaten path.

Though the Connected Community engagement process may extend over years at a time and encompass multiple areas of government, connectivity stats in rural communities are on the rise, thanks to the resilient support provided by Connected Nation Technology Advisors, leadership from community champions, and unified efforts of all community stakeholders. In 2010, just over half of rural households in Connected Nation states reported using broadband in the home; however, among low-income demographics, only one in three adopt the technology at home. In 2013 those numbers grew to almost 70% connectivity for rural households and 53% in low-income groups, and the stats continue to rise. Approximately 54 communities are now Connected certified across the U.S. and more communities are working on the assessment process toward certification each week. Those 54 communities are currently executing action plans to increase broadband availability, access, and use.

With only 26 of Michigan’s 83 counties classified as urban areas, large portions of upper Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are comprised of rural communities. Many of these counties and cities have reached out to Connect Michigan, Connected Nation’s state branch, to help form an action plan for broadband development, bring in Internet service providers to underserved areas, and educate the community.

Hart, Michigan in Oceana County, is one such community that has been working to expand broadband. Representatives from Oceana County and surrounding areas met in 2013 with Connect Michigan Technology Advisor Tom Stephenson to discuss opportunities for expansion and make a plan to entice Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to the area.  The community has been working to increase awareness, and their tireless efforts have yielded results. Frontier Communications recently announced in a press release that it was expanding coverage to Mears and Hart, two Oceana County lakeside communities that attract thousands of summer vacationers and residents seeking a quiet place to settle. The new broadband availability will serve both residents and businesses that have previously been unable to access broadband or were limited in options. With proof that demand can support infrastructure and competition, other ISPs may follow Frontier Communications and expand to other vacation destination and rural villages in surrounding counties.

At a national level, recently, Frontier Communications announced that it will accept the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) offer of over $1.7 billion over the next six years to upgrade its voice and broadband network to over 650,000 locations in 28 states, (more than 157,000 households in IA, MI, NV, OH, SC, and TN which are states that are part of programs offered by Connected Nation). Frontier is the first provider to accept these Phase II funds from the FCC’s Connect America Fund, and the acceptance is the largest single commitment of broadband network build-out ever in the United States. Click HERE to view maps of the subsidized build-out areas in your state and click HERE for a detailed policy brief on the Connect America Fund.

To learn more about communications in your area and broadband expansion efforts through Connected Nation, visit