The Mason County Board of Commissioners chose to continue the investigation into whether it or a private company could bring Internet service to all residents and businesses in the county during its regular meeting Tuesday morning at the Mason County Airport conference room.
The board passed the resolution at its meeting unanimously, and members of the Connecting Mason County group demanded his passage to make internet access for everyone one step closer to becoming a reality.
“Broadband internet access has consistently been a barrier to ensuring that we connect with all residents and provide quality service, whether in our schools or in healthcare, to people who try to work remotely or try do business from McDonald’s parking lot, ”said Monica Schuyler, who is a member of the Connecting Mason County committee and is also the executive director of the Pennies From Heaven Foundation. “It was clear that something had to be done.”
The group, with the help of Aspen Wireless, conducted a feasibility study after its study earlier this year. The company set the potential cost of installing wiring in each home or business within Mason County totaling about $ 45 million to $ 46 million.
Mike Reen, the company’s director for the municipal broadband, said these costs can vary greatly. And Reen said that with the passage of the county resolution there is a possibility through a request for proposal that private companies put their plans before the board to provide internet service in a way the county wants.
“If you want to say that this is our threshold and this is the minimum you need to provide, someone else can come in and say we’ll do it. It will probably cost a lot less,” Reen said. “But if no one offers it and no one makes a proposal to resolve this issue of digital sharing, then you are back in the beginning. If no one is going to do it privately, just as no one privately built the interstate system, the government takes on a role in providing something that really lifts your entire community. “
The commissioners asked what kind of commitment the county would have by adopting the resolution. There will still be a request for proposal and a public hearing on a possible project.
“Yes, we need broadband. I think we have a common ground there. This is not the best case scenario for the county government to compete against Syncwave. I understand that,” the 3rd District Commissioner said. -of Jody Hartley. “If there is a better solution, I would like to hear this, because I have received an answer for this. It’s a necessity, and I consider it as electricity and heating for your home. ”
“I think people will have to remember that (rescue plan dollars) will only pay for a small part of that,” First District Commissioner Nick Krieger said. “The county will have to borrow millions and millions of dollars. A lot of people here say we want this, this is so wonderful … they are the same people who come to me and say we should not pay $ 1 more. “per hour for (county) employees… We need to think about this. If you have another plan, I would love to hear it … There are other options.”
There was also a reluctance for the county to work in competition with private businesses such as Syncwave. Syncwave representatives were in the meeting, and also expressed concerns, if there is a necessity to link any settlement or business.
“If fiber is a wonderful thing? Yes, it is the Ferrari of internet services, but do you need a Ferrari to go to work, go to school and do different things? “Not necessarily,” said Russell Manning of Syncwave.
Manning said discussions within his company and its experience show that often times, when working with clients, there are equipment failures on the part of the user that create problems, not necessarily problems for the provider.
“Digital separation, the human component is not looked so closely,” he said. “It’s about people having money to pay for services, technical understanding, the ability to navigate technology and afford the latest equipment. All those different things are a big factor.”
Jeremy Vronko, a Connect Mason County committee member and chief operating officer of Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital, urged the board to consider that while what is proposed to be installed is expensive now, it may not serve the needs of the community 10 years abroad.
“It will be interesting to see how we go through this process and what we find,” Vronko said. “One thing that is really nice about fibers is that they can be easily improved in the future. Once you have created those paths, it is much more up-to-date. I think if we adopt a common platform across our county “I think it will become much easier to support. Right now, we have a very, very mixed environment and it is difficult to support.”
All resolutions before the county board are adopted unanimously, except one. Hartley voted against a resolution for the county to approve the bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma.
Hartley said the solution was smaller than what Roundup creators are paying for the effects of that chemical. He said the Purdue solution was not punitive enough because of the impact of the opioid crisis on society.
Mason County Emergency Management Coordinator Liz Reimink and Dr. Lisa Hotovy Williams of the Michigan Western Community Mental Health each gave their annual reports.
Reimink said her office helped coordinate vaccination clinics for COVID-19, and she said more people through one clinic a day were about 800 and fewer about 300.
“Throughout the process, in collaboration with the health department and Spectrum Health, we were able to save – we did not keep accounts – but we are estimating that we kept almost 200 vaccines from going off initially. If there were extra doses in the bottle “We had a great list during the call. People had a good understanding, and we were able to take those shots in the arms instead of losing them,” Reimink said.
“I know in the early days of the vaccination process across the state, this was not happening. It shows how well Mason County works, the relationship we have with health (community) and we were able to make it our moment. shining in our vaccination process. “
Reimink said planning and training have taken place, with some virtual precautions and some personal ones. One note she made was many people who signed up for CodeRED alerts allowed the test call to go to voicemail instead of answering the phone.
“The biggest push will be to make sure you put that CodeRED number on their phones to make sure they’re getting that message or call, they know it’s an emergency alarm and they know the answer,” Reimink said. .
Williams said her report covered his previous fiscal year ranging from October 2019 to September 2020. She highlighted some of the CMH items reached before the COVID-19 pandemic, including a clinic with Michigan Northwest Health Services.
“We have found some great opportunities that emerged from COVID, but there were many challenges that still exist and many barriers that we need to address,” she said.
She said West Michigan CMH focused on telehealth work and distance work within a week during the pandemic. It provided more than 35,000 telemedicine visits to people in the community, and was a huge boost from previous use of the remote control. The federal government changed some of its billing rules to allow tele health.
She also highlighted the implementation of MyStrength, an application available for most smart devices. The app helps with basic mental health and had several COVID-related responses, she said. There are more than 900 people in the community who use it.