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| 2 min read | by Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com |

A survey is going out to Webster Township residents in an effort to collect accurate information as to what broadband access is and use looks like around the township.

During his supervisor remarks at the Jan. 21 township board meeting, township supervisor John Kingsley said a survey is supposed to go out through mail to all residents on Jan. 31.

Kingsley said there will also be an online option for residents to link to the survey. He said this will be for residents who are using their laptop or desktop computer at home. For the person with access, the question will be what Internet speed you have.

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He said the online survey will be able to test this, but added it cannot be done by phone.

The mailed survey is sent to properly gauge broadband access for residents. It will come with it a self-addressed envelope, which should be mailed to the Minnesota address on it to the company helping with the survey.

Kingsley said if one doesn’t want to mail it then it can be dropped off at township hall, 5665 Webster Church Road, and after which the township will mail it to Minnesota.

Kingsley said the purpose of the survey is to counter the fake data being put out by some Internet providers who he said when they inform the Federal government about broadband access they will cite data that says a census block is served by broadband, but in reality, Kinglsey said, there might be only one address with broadband access while others in that block are underserved or not served at all.

He said the data being collected is meant to help inform the Washtenaw County Broadband Task Force as it applies to help with getting a chance at USDA grants. Among the different roles, the task force has been charged with working to seek funding to provide grant identification, writing, and aggregation resources for Washtenaw County communities and identify and pursue private investments and other funding sources to help subsidize and incentivize broadband expansion.

An important amount of the funding used to do these surveys, according to Kingsley, is coming from Merit, which is a nonprofit helping with the Internet backbone for groups such as different Michigan educational institutions/schools and libraries. He said this is a pilot project for Merit and it is being offered as help to other areas in Michigan.

As noted by township officials in the past, one big part impacted by the lack of broadband access are learning opportunities for students. The issue of broadband is so noticeable around Washtenaw County that it led to the task force being put together to address it.

According to the report from the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Broadband Equity Sub-Committee from November 29, 2018, “Broadband access is no longer a luxury, and is essential for participation in modern society. About 20,000 residents (about 8,000 households) in Washtenaw County currently do not have access to broadband as defined at the 25 megabit download speed threshold. The primary cause of this lack of access is the fact that market forces leave broadband providers with a higher profit margin in more populated areas than in rural areas. In some areas, the return on investment for providers is low enough that it is likely that these areas will remain underserved for the foreseeable future. “

The report said this lack of access is impacting this group of residents in the following ways:

• Education: Students without broadband at home are at a significant disadvantage versus their peers. There are students lacking access in all Washtenaw County school districts, but the two worst impacted are Chelsea School District (40.6 percent or 2,836 households unserved) and Manchester School District (69.5 percent or 2,327 households unserved).

• Economic development: Lack of broadband hampers entrepreneurship, job seeking, and attraction of both businesses and talent.

• Property value: Studies show that homes without broadband access are on average worth 3.1 percent less than comparable homes with broadband, and the gap rises to 7.1 percent when faster fiber optic broadband is considered.  

Those are just a few areas; there are more in the report.

Over the past two years, the USDA has increased its funding into programs aimed to help expanding rural broadband infrastructure in unserved areas of the country.

Kingsley said it will take a little time to collect the data, so it would be the next round of grant funding when an application might be submitted.

The township will soon be informing residents through township email and/or its website of the online survey, so keep an eye out. Go to the township website at http://www.twp.webster.mi.us/ or call the township at 734-426-5103.

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