PRESS RELEASE: Ottawa County takes action to address broadband access and affordability concerns

General Press Release

December 18, 2020  |  For Immediate Release

Ottawa County takes action to address broadband access and affordability concerns

WEST OLIVEAs the way we use technology has evolved from opening files on floppy disk drives to cloud computing, so has the demand for internet connectivity. But here in Ottawa County, broadband service is inconsistent – many areas lack service, experience poor service, or the residents simply can’t afford high-speed internet; the outbreak of Covid-19 has only exasperated this issue. The way education, business, health care, and social interaction are being conducted during the pandemic has made it clear high-speed internet service is no longer a luxury. That’s why Ottawa County is acting today to improve access to broadband for all County residents by soliciting proposals to collect detailed broadband data at a granular level.  

"It has to start with much better data," said Planning & Performance Improvement Department Director Paul Sachs. "In order to effectively improve internet availability across the County, we need to know where our gaps are in affordability and access. Everything at this point is either anecdotal or the data is unrefined. Our ensuing comprehensive data collection effort, which will include a robust survey of residents and businesses is an essential first step in our 'Digital Inclusion Strategy'  a four-phase plan to not just expand necessary internet access but increase affordability and digital literacy in West Michigan."  


Broadband Fibers

Beginning Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, through Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, the County will be seeking bids (link to RFP) from experienced vendors to provide and execute a strategy for comprehensive data collection and analysis to determine the status of broadband service and future needs throughout Ottawa County.

This data collection  Phase I of the Comprehensive Digital Inclusion Strategy  is vital in determining need, ultimately aiding in the design and planning for the potential expanded network in conjunction with broadband service providers


The data analysis is just one piece of the much-larger broadband initiative for Ottawa County. For well over a decade, community leaders and organizers have been working hard to address digital connectivity gaps. Despite some successes, population density challenges have meant some areas have been left behind. 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. Unfortunately, the resulting data from those studies failed to drill down far enough to truly determine any gaps in connectivity to less than a census block which then precluded any ability to formulate tangible plans that address real need.

The FCC has maintained maps that illustrate broadband coverage across the Country. However, these maps are very flawed. "The FCC maps – they're inaccurate, because they cumulate provider-based data on a Census block," Sachs said. "If one home in the Census block has access, it fills the whole block. So, when you look at a map of Michigan, and you see Ottawa County's broadband access, it's misleading, not everyone can obtain the service from the providers who say its least not without great cost to landowners."


Ottawa County’s Digital Inclusion Strategy is about establishing affordable broadband access across all areas of the County and eventually West Michigan as a whole. At the onset of the State’s Stay Home Order in Spring 2020, the Planning Department and Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD) representatives began meeting to lay out a multi-phased strategy to address digital inclusion gaps. The intended purpose of the strategy is to ensure all communities in the region are capable of engaging in so-called ‘eActivities,’ such as: eGovernment, eEducation, eIndustry, eEmergency, eAgriculture, eManagement, etc.).

The intent is to initially pilot the first phase of the Digital Inclusion Strategy in a handful of selected counties, including Ottawa. This four-phased plan includes:

Phase I: Data collection and analysis (surveying households, businesses, students, teleworkers)

Phase II: In-depth analysis of the collected data to identify solutions to address gaps in connectivity (determining pre-engineering and equipment needs)

Phase III: Intermediary solutions deployment (deployment of solutions to address connectivity gaps, such as computer access, internet affordability and service availability; infrastructure opportunities)

Phase IV: Ongoing Transformation (ensuring baseline capacity is expanded as demands for digital connectivity change over time)

Current project partners include Urban Wireless Solutions and KLA Laboratories, who are aiding to strategize and develop a broadband system for Ottawa County; OAISD, involved from beginning to develop the strategy; and area businesses and individuals from across the County. The Planning Department is pursuing additional partners, including local nonprofits, units of government and colleges and universities.

Through careful surveying and analysis, the County seeks to ensure our families and businesses have the tools to compete in today’s world by accessing high-speed internet service.  

For more information on the Comprehensive Digital Inclusion Strategy and broadband access in Ottawa County, visit

Media Contact:

Paul Sachs, Director  |  |  616-738-4852