Gigabit Libraries Network

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Otsego County Library

Describe the need that you’re trying to address.

The Otsego County Library serves 24,164 residents spread over 515 square miles in northern rural Michigan. Options for connectivity are limited and costly; large segments of our county are still dead zones, with a lack of broadband and consistent cell phone coverage. Our three Community Anchor Site libraries offer fast broadband through the Merit Reach 3MC fiber network. This connectivity has helped bridge the digital divide; 56,406 people used library workstations or wireless last year. Benefits to the greater community, though, are hampered by the close proximity needed to access library wireless.

Connectivity issues hamper local efforts to strengthen economic development, including tourism. Our county needs a solution allowing visitors to enjoy our natural landscape without being isolated from the outside world. Using TVWS technologies, the library could deliver affordable access to community spaces previously out of WiFi reach, placing hotspots in areas of greatest need while partnering with local organizations. The library could also help ensure the safety of residents and tourists by ‘bringing dead zones alive’ where other means of communication are inadequate. A $15,000 grant would allow us to install a TVWS base station at our branch in Johannesburg and purchase remote units for essential community sites.

What would be a successful outcome for your project?

Successful outcomes for our project would move the County forward in meeting community economic development goals. According to the Gaylord/Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, tourism remains a major contributor to Otsego County’s economy and a 2013 Economic Regional Roundtable noted that “tourism is an opportunity for future economic development in the region.”

The One County/One Vision planning process (2004) included two important recommendations: encourage tourism and; improve access to broadband. Progress was delayed when our County experienced a severe economic downturn, with unemployment spiking to 14.8% by 2010 as manufacturing jobs disappeared and tourism spending declined. Even during that downturn, tourism accounted for nearly 39% of all jobs (Otsego County Economic Summary). With our economy finally gaining steam, new efforts are underway to work towards long-term community goals. The Otsego County Community Development Plan reiterates the need to 1) improve residents’ access to communication technologies; 2) promote sustainable tourist activities; 3) facilitate improvement of recreation in Otsego County; 4) encourage creation of additional recreational events within the County; and 5) develop the Louis M. Groen Nature Center property.

Outcome 1: A base station will be installed at the Johannesburg Branch Library to extend WiFi to the 800-acre Groen Nature Center. The Groen Committee has documented the need for Wi-Fi at the property to help with safety by allowing people to generate a map of their current location and also to develop interactive trails and exhibits.

Outcome 2 : The Johannesburg Branch Library base station will extend WiFi through a hotspot at the Charlton Township Hall, which houses a 400 seat event center, senior center, and fire station, and is within WiFi reach of the community park. Connectivity will increase use of these venues and improve communications/logistics for fire personnel.

Outcome 3: TVWS could provide a new tool for rural emergency management, facilitating communications where other options are inadequate. The Library will work with public safety officials to test connectivity at mobile hotspot sites within range of the Johannesburg Branch Library base station allowing them to determine if TVWS is a viable solution that would merit expansion of these technologies in rural areas of the County.

Outcome 4: The Otsego County Library will become a sought after partner with a reputation for providing meaningful contributions to our local communities, a goal listed in the 2014 Michigan Libraries Community Conversations narrative compiled by the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services.

To determine if these outcomes are met, the library will measure:

  • Numbers of organizations participating
  • Numbers of remote sites and activities offered
  • Usage of WiFi through the library’s TVWS connectivity
  • Impact of project using surveys to gather opinions from organizational leaders and library staff
  • Funds raised to supplement grant dollars

Please list your team members or partners and their roles

The following key community leaders have agreed to partner with the library on this project:

John Burt, Otsego County Administrator, will serve on the project implementation committee and enlist participation from county-managed entities (i.e. Groen Nature Preserve, Parks and Recreation,Sheriff Department, County Emergency Services). He will provide county IT staff to monitor/maintain equipment at the Groen property.

Matt Nowicki, Charlton Township Supervisor, will serve on the project committee and coordinate participation from township entities within reach of the Johannesburg Branch Library base station. He will provide staff to monitor/maintain equipment at township owned sites.

Paul Beachnau, Executive Director of the Gaylord/Otsego County Tourism Bureau, will serve on the project committee and share results of this pilot project with private and public entities involved in tourism-related events.

Jan Kellogg, Vanderbilt community volunteer/activist, will serve on the project committee to help evaluate the pilot project and, if this project is a success, assist in the planning/fundraising to replicate it with a base station at the Vanderbilt Branch Library in order to coordinate with future construction of the Trailhead Park on the Iron Belle Trail, which will serve as a gateway to the Pigeon River Country State Forest.

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