BY ANGIE JACKSON
TRAVERSE CITY — Antrim is the third county in the nation, and the second in Michigan, to be certified as a "connected" community for its broadband accessibility.
Connect Michigan, a subsidiary of Connected Nation that partners with the Michigan Public Service Commission, guided a group of community volunteers to draft a technology plan over the past year. County representatives will unveil details of the 67-page plan to the public today.
The plan includes recommendations of how to make broadband more available to residents and in schools, businesses and local government.
Charlevoix County in August was the first to claim the certification. Douglas County in Nevada followed.
Connect Michigan requires communities score at least 100 to receive the certification based on national criteria, including how a community uses broadband technology. Antrim County received 109 out of 120 possible points.
County Administrator Peter Garwood said Antrim can improve in providing Internet to people who cannot afford it.
"The people you hear from are those that are lacking the service, and I don't blame them. They see other people who have the service and have a good, fast broadband and they want that," Garwood said.
Team members met with service providers to pinpoint holes of access within the county. Jan Kellogg, Economic Development Specialist with the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance, hopes Internet providers will recognize the market for more service, specifically in rural areas.
Kellogg said she was surprised to learn through the assessment that a number of businesses, especially small businesses, don't use Internet or use it minimally.
Community organizations and chambers of commerce could provide classes for business owners on how to develop a website or join social media, said Tom Stephenson, Community Technology Advisor for Connect Michigan.
The evaluation of service and awareness helps county leaders "get their arms around" where the county stands and the next steps.
"This gives them a vehicle," Stephenson said.
Garwood said it's only the beginning of the conversation. He predicts the certification will take the county in the right direction toward attracting and rooting businesses in the tourism-reliant area.
Kellogg said economic alliance officials often hear from people who own summer homes in the county and run a business downstate. With faster Internet service, they could work remotely.
"They'd stay here longer. There'd be more people buying homes and doing business up here, which is all better for the economy," she said.
The community is invited to attend the ceremony today at 3 p.m. at the Antrim County Building of Commissioners room.