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Countywide Broadband Internet

Digital Inclusion Strategy - Improving Access for Everyone

As the way we use technology has evolved from opening files on floppy disk drives to cloud computing, so has the demand for internet connectivity. The way education, business, health care, and social interaction are increasingly being conducted makes it clear high-speed internet service is no longer a luxury – it is a necessity both now and into the future.

But broadband service in Ottawa County continues to be inconsistent – many areas lack service, experience poor service, or residents simply can’t afford high-speed internet. Ottawa County is actively working to address these persistent gaps in high-speed internet service through a new Digital Inclusion Strategy.

This initiative is about establishing complete, fixed broadband access across all areas of the County, and eventually West Michigan as a whole. Building off the County’s previous efforts to help facilitate broadband expansion countywide, Department of Strategic Impact and Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD) representatives began meeting in early 2020 to lay out a multi-phased strategy to address digital inclusion gaps.

  •   Taking Action
    Study Takeaways

    Broadband Data Collection Survey Results

    Phase I of the Digital Inclusion Strategy - data collection - is now complete!

    Initiative partner and survey creator Merit Network has carefully reviewed survey and speed test data collected through the end of 2021 from County residents and businesses and released a detailed report.

    The information gathered clearly demonstrates many more people are underserved than reported by the FCC and others.

    With this refined data, Ottawa County and its Digital Inclusion Strategy partners are now moving on to Phase II: developing infrastructure plans, feasibility analyses of these plans, preliminary engineering designs, and a cost model.

    Explore the Data

    Broadband Data Collection Executive Findings Report

    Broadband Data Collection Topline Report
    • Broadband Data Collection - Topline Report
      This PDF document offers a more comprehensive look at survey speed and broadband availability data, as well as an overview of respondents' opinions and assessments of Internet service.
  •   Where We've Been

    Since the beginning of high-speed internet, Ottawa County has been involved in improving service and building infrastructure. The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners has actively supported enhanced broadband for residents and businesses for more than a decade. The County has had multiple successes with expanding broadband into previously underserved areas through collaborative public-private partnerships. Here’s a closer look:

    Expansion of Cellular and Data Coverage

    In the late 2000s, the County partnered with Sprint (now part of T-Mobile) to upgrade and expand its wireless broadband network. In exchange for Sprint investing $1 million to enhance and expand high-speed wireless service to the County’s rural areas, local officials, whenever possible, assisted with expediting permitting, zoning approvals, and site assessments needed to upgrade and expand the existing wireless network.

    Eventually, the County worked with Verizon and AT&T to fill coverage gaps by constructing cell towers in underserved areas. Cellular and data coverage in more rural parts of the County improved significantly.

    Mobile Broadband At Home or Away - Sprint

    Hotspot Device Lending Initiative

    Mobile hotspot kit

    Beginning in 2018, the County partnered with three area libraries to initiate a Mobile Hotspot Device Lending Initiative. This program allows residents to check out the portable devices from their local library for on-the-go access. With the support of this Department, eventually all nine Ottawa County libraries received a Library of Michigan Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant to expand the program, making the devices available for loan to the county’s more than 283,000 residents. The program has been a success. During the first year (October 2019-October 2020) two libraries showed their devices were circulated 479 times!

    Connect Michigan Report

    In 2018, in an attempt to better understand regional challenges, over a dozen counties in West Michigan – including Ottawa – partnered with ConnectMichigan, a nonprofit working to expand broadband.

    A community technology assessment was performed to identify deficiencies and opportunities for improving local broadband access to advance economic, social, and educational opportunities for families, businesses, and community institutions.

    A comprehensive Community Technology Action Plan was created. Unfortunately, the results of that effort did not provide the level of granularity needed to thoroughly and accurately understand the county’s true broadband landscape. These issues are further explained below under “Continued Issues”

    Cover of the Community Technology Action Plan
  •   Continued Issues

    Although the County has taken an active role in improving high-speed internet access, these efforts alone haven’t solved the problems we face.


    Community Technology Action Plan Held Back by Inaccurate Data

    Map of broadband coverage across the county

    The FCC maintains maps that illustrate broadband coverage across the Country based on Census blocks. Census blocks vary widely in size based on population density. For example, a Census block in the city of Holland can be dramatically smaller than a block in a less densely populated township. As the map at left shows, if one home in a Census block has access, FCC maps represent that the whole block has access, skewing the data. Because the Action Plan was based on Census block data, it failed to drill down far enough to truly determine any gaps in connectivity. Additionally, inaccurate FCC maps have delayed and in some cases disqualified the County from qualifying for grants to plug these gaps in service.

    Wireless Internet is not always practical

    Data caps and limited upload/download speeds cannot consistently provide the average consumer the needed capacity to work and learn remotely. Library mobile hotspots are a boon to many, but cannot be a permanent solution. The FCC describes broadband as any service that provides 25 megabits per second downloads and 3 megabits per second uploads. This standard hasn’t been updated since 2015. The minimum recommended standard are downloads of 100 mbps and uploads of 25 mbps. The mobile hotspots available from Ottawa County libraries use 4G/LTE technology, which, according to a 2019 report from Ookla, an international mobile and broadband network researcher, averages 38 mbps download speed and 9.5 mbps upload speed, far short of the accepted minimum standards mentioned above.

    However, while wireless as a last mile solution (e.g. wireless service into homes) is not always practical, as wireless technology improves and infrastructure solutions are developed to expand reliable broadband speeds to unserved rural areas, wireless can offer advantages when combined with other technologies to cost-effectively extend services. Ottawa County’s evolving infrastructure solution to extend broadband countywide will likely involve the use of wireless for local infrastructure needs as necessary and practical.

    Hand holding a phone that is cannot connect to the internet

    Satellite Internet is Expensive and Erratic

    Satellites circling the globe

    Satellite internet service is available from cellular and cable providers but is expensive. For example, 56% percent of library mobile hotspot users surveyed by this Department in 2020 said they didn’t have internet service at home because it is ‘too expensive.’ Prices for conventional satellite internet in this area run at least $15 per month more than DSL and broadband services, with download speeds around 50 mbps slower.

    Additionally, inclement weather and heavy foliage can easily interfere with satellite signals.

    But what about Starlink? High-tech Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite wireless service are being invested in and tested by tech giants like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, but are years away from being affordable for regular use for the average citizen. Because powerful wireless service is cost-prohibitive, high-speed access needs to be wired.

  •   The Digital Inclusion Strategy

    Because of the inaccurate data, national providers, state and federal regulators are under the mistaken impression that reliable, high-speed broadband service is consistently available and reliable in all corners of the County. Our citizens tell us otherwise. For several years, through our comment form at the bottom of this web page as well as through other sources, the public has had the opportunity to report difficulties with high-speed internet to this Department. A countless number of residents have reported they either don’t have access, their access is unreliable, or is too expensive.

    In light of these continued reports and the static efforts of private-sector providers to address our county’s gaps in coverage, the County and its strategic stakeholders are moving aggressively to improve and expand broadband service in order to achieve universal, affordable access for all.


    The intended purpose of the Digital Inclusion Strategy is to ensure all area residents and communities have access to affordable and reliable broadband internet service, necessary equipment, and digital literacy training.

    This four-phased plan includes ...

    Digital Inclusion logo



    Collect the necessary data to inform our decision-making to effectively address gaps in access, affordability, and digital literacy.

    Primary objectives
    • Refine broadband-availability maps
    • Improve understanding of how residents use broadband and what they need
    • Improve understanding of barriers to broadband access by both connected users and those currently without high-speed internet
    Survey results



    By utilizing data from Phase I, develop a robust plan defining the actions necessary to address gaps in access, affordability, and digital literacy throughout the County.

    Primary Objectives
    • Prepare broadband infrastructure plans that address physical access issues
    • Develop initiatives that address cost and equipment problems preventing residents from accessing broadband
    • Develop digital literacy public outreach and education initiatives for residents
    • Develop strategies to overcome regulatory hurdles inhibiting the expansion of reliable and affordable broadband infrastructure
    Analyzing data



    Put into motion Phase II plans to ensure Ottawa County deploys the infrastructure and support programming necessary to achieve universal, affordable broadband access for everyone.

    Primary Objectives
    • Through a public-private partnership, build broadband infrastructure to connect areas of County lacking reliable and affordable high-speed internet
    • Connect with local partners to help subsidize, as needed, the cost of broadband access for those unable to afford it
    • Deploy digital literacy programs
    Deploying solutions


    Ongoing Transformation

    Monitor and address ongoing and evolving needs among residents and businesses to ensure they have access to the broadband infrastructure needed to compete today and tomorrow.

    Primary Objectives
    • Survey/evaluate the public at least every three years to gauge broadband use and anticipate future needs
    • Continue developing solutions to ensure County offers the most robust infrastructure and programming needed for residents and business to thrive into the future
    Making progress as we continue forward

    Current Partners

    Data Collection Steering Committee Members

    Phase I Funding Partners

  •   Resources
      Use this website to find low-cost internet and affordable computers in your area.
    • 21st Century Infrastructure Commission
      In March 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder created the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission. The Commission developed a list of 110 solutions to improve Michigan’s infrastructure and enhance the quality of life for all Michiganders.
    • Speed Test
      Test the speed and performance of your internet connection here.
  •   Affordable Connectivity Program

    Do you or someone you know need help paying for high-speed internet service? The Affordable Connectivity Program, a new FCC initiative provides discounts on monthly service and devices to help families and households access broadband. It replaces the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB).

    Eligible households can receive discounts of up to $30 per month on broadband internet service, as well as a one-time discount of up to $100 toward a laptop or desktop computer or tablet bought through a participating provider.

    How to Apply

    Applying for the Affordable Connectivity Program is a two-step process. Eligible households must both apply for the program and contact a participating provider to select a service plan.

    1. Submit an application. To complete an application online or by mail, please visit, and scroll down to "Apply". If you do not have access to the internet, please call 877-384-2575.
    2. Contact a participating provider to select a plan. To find a provider near you that participates in ACP, click here. Please note that some providers may ask you to complete an alternative application.

    More Information

    What if I'm already enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program?

    The temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB) has been replaced by the permanent ACP. If you were enrolled in the EBB Program before Dec. 31, 2021, you will continue to receive a $50 per month discount toward internet service through March 1, 2022. After the transitionary period, beginning March 1, 2022, your discount will drop to $30 per month. Households that qualified for EBB due to loss of income because of a job loss or furlough beginning Feb. 29, 2020, or by meeting other eligibility criteria for a participating provider's COVID program will need to requalify for ACP.

    For more information on the program and eligibility requirements, please visit

  •   What is Broadband?
    What is Broadband?