REED CITY — Osceola County ranks second in the country for the highest number of homes and businesses without access to high-speed internet access.
According to data released by the Federal Communications Commission, 5,687 homes or businesses are eligible for a broadband expansion auction.
Osceola County placed behind only Franklin County, Missouri for most homes and businesses without high-speed internet access in the U.S.
The Michigan county with the next highest number of eligible homes and businesses was Lenawee at 2,511 and Newaygo at 2,326.
The data was released as part of an upcoming FCC Connect America Fund Phase II auction that is scheduled for July and includes nearly $2 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years.
CAF-II is a reform and modernization effort begun in 2015 to use competitive bidding to support telecommunication carriers in the deployment of voice and broadband service to underserved Americans.
Typically, it’s more profitable for telecommunications companies to build in urban areas because higher population density redistributes the cost of putting in towers or fiber optic cables among more people. In rural areas there are too few people to make communication infrastructure viable, hence the need for subsidies.
Osceola County Community and Economic Development Coordinator Dan Massy said companies like Casair, which services some localities in Osceola, have applied to take part in the auction.
“I don’t know of any aspect of life that doesn’t require the internet — whether it’s healthcare, business or school,” he said.
Massy said education is a major part of getting adequate information infrastructure into Osceola communities.
“Kids without internet fall behind educationally versus those with internet. We have to solve it,” Massy said.
Years ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce provided grant funding to programs with a similar goal to that of the FCC’s CAF-II program.
According to Massy, an organization called Connect Michigan was able to get 99 percent of the county up to spec.
Massy doesn’t think nearly that the program covered much of the county, but the definition of broadband has changed over the years. In 2015, the FCC raised standards from download speeds of 4 Mbps (Megabits per second) to 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 1 Mbps to 3 Mbps.
Osceola County met the former standards, but no longer meets the new ones and hasn’t kept up with advances in telecommunications.
However, if the companies that applied to the auction win their funding, there is no guarantee how long it will take before internet speeds are upgraded.
Companies have to meet certain benchmarks after winning an award, but it could be several years before there’s an effect because.
And, even if the county meets broadband speeds, there’s nothing to prevent it from being downgraded again in the future if the FCC changes its definitions again.