Closing the digital divide in Oceana County.

May 15, 2019

Closing the digital divide in Oceana County.

HART – The digital divide, namely the lack of adequate internet service in rural areas, may be closing in Oceana County over the next several years following the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) most recent round of funding that targets rural areas throughout the US for broadband service, according to a press release from Oceana County Administrator Dr. Robert Sobie.

“In 2017, the FCC established the Connect America Fund with the purpose of providing broadband internet service to unserved and underserved rural homes and businesses,” states Sobie. “Oceana County is included in the multi-county, multi-year project.

“In today’s digital economy, the need for high-speed internet service is often desribed as an essential utility like electricity, water, and sewer systems. Getting left behind in a growing digital economy is not an option for rural businesses and education when, for example, parents and students need it to keep pace with the growing use of technology in the classroom and homework outside of it.

“On May 7, a group of local officials, organized by County Commissioner Andy Sebolt, representing education, business, and government, met with Corporate President Steven Meinhardt of Casair, Inc. to better understand the project’s scope of work as it impacts Oceana County. Casair is one of the recipients of Connect America Funding that will be used, in part, to enhance service in the county. The company has a long history for providing internet service to homes and businesses and is doing so today in Oceana County making the company well-informed of rural needs.

“Jon Rodacy is president of Arbre Farms, one of the largest employers in the county, was one of the attendees at the meeting with Casair. Rodacy stated, ‘The expansion of internet coverage in our area is very important to the development of commerce and the ability to attract labor and management. As citizens of the community, we need to do everything we can to ensure this project succeeds.’

“Another attendee, Emma Kirwin, Leavitt Township supervisor, was impressed ‘with Casair’s commitment to bringing broadband service to areas really in need. Having access to high-speed internet will help our students and education system and will contribute to a better quality of life for area residents. Businesses need affordable access, and this project will benefit existing businesses as well as make our area more attractive to new business.’”

“Technology and installation methods have evolved over the years to a point where it becomes much easier to develop the infrastructure required to deliver internet service to homes and businesses in rural areas. Fiber optic cable and wireless from new and existing towers will serve as the backbone for expanded service. In fact, once the project gets going in Oceana County, Meinhardt stated that the first phase will be to enhance existing towers with newer more powerful equipment that would immediately provide benefits to existing customers and allow new customers to take their service. Where a new tower may be required, discussions at the local level regarding a tower ordinance may be necessary in order to more completely meet the goals of the project.

“Sebolt represents constituents in District 4 which is largely targeted for broadband expansion by Casair. Sebolt supports the project because ‘while economies are a two-way system of people who buy products and the businesses who supply them, infrastructure is the life blood that makes it all possible. Today, information infrastructure is increasingly the conduit of growth and success in thriving areas worldwide. Now, with this project getting underway, we will lay the groundwork for modernizing commerce, improving online access for students at home, and all-around better quality of life for those who call our community home.’

“The project will span several years and a tentative project timeline is not yet available. Perhaps within five years the digital divide that separates rural communities from their urbanized neighbors will reveal a new technological landscape in Oceana County.”

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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