Michigan All-In on Closing the Digital Divide with American Rescue Plan Support

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Digital Beat

Michigan All-In on Closing the Digital Divide with American Rescue Plan Support

“A fully connected Michigan is essential for our state to reach its economic potential in the 21st century global economy.”

—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI)

On June 2, 2021, Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) signed an Executive Directive to create the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI) and expand high-speed internet access for people in Michigan. The vision was simple—to ensure that "every home and business in Michigan will have access to an affordable, reliable high-speed internet connection that meets their needs." Her action recognized how many Michiganders struggle to secure the access they need—and that lack of connectivity hampers their ability to engage in online learning, to use telemedicine to seek needed healthcare, to work remotely or search for a new job, to advertise their small business services, to virtually attend a family event, or to take advantage of the myriad resources, services, and tools available online.

The Digital Divide in Michigan

Lack of broadband impairs residential and commercial development in many areas of Michigan, including those that have typically been defined as “vacation” properties, tourist destinations, and other smaller rural areas and towns. Over $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to the digital divide that a lack of high-speed internet access creates, and MIHI will do its best to bridge that gap by coordinating all state, federal, philanthropic and private investments that are allocated to broadband infrastructure and its utilization. 

According to the Michigan Broadband Roadmap, the digital divide cuts differently depending on geography, race, age, income, and other factors. The following is a glimpse of digital inequity in Michigan:

  • Over 212,000 households lack access to a broadband network.
  • An estimated 1.24 million Michigan households (31.5%) do not have a permanent, fixed internet connection at home.
  • Nearly 35% (197,000) of households earning less than $20,000 annually do not have a broadband connection.
  • More than 22% (395,000) of residents age 65 and older do not have broadband at home.
  • Black and Latino Michiganders are nearly half as likely to have a home broadband connection than non-Black and non-Latino residents.

Michigan's Broadband Programs

State Broadband Initiative

Michigan began its journey toward the establishment of a state high-speed internet office in late 2009 when the Michigan Public Service Commission partnered with the nonprofit Connected Nation to implement the State Broadband Initiative (SBI). The SBI program, administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, was a comprehensive approach to building broadband capacity. SBI activities included broadband coverage mapping, community engagement, research, and state-level capacity building through data sharing, presentations, and meetings. The Michigan's SBI program ran from late 2009 through January of 2015.

21st Century Infrastructure Commission

Following the end of the SBI program, the Michigan Public Service Commission continued to map residential broadband availability in the state. In 2016, Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) created the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission to develop a long-term vision, and associated recommendations, to drive the state toward improving its infrastructure and enhancing the quality of life for Michiganders:

Michigan will lead the nation in creating 21st century infrastructure systems that will include, at a minimum, innovative technology, sustainable funding solutions, sound economic principles, and a collaborative and integrated asset management and investment approach that will enhance Michiganders’ quality of life and build strong communities for the future.

The 21st Century Infrastructure Commission recommended the state identify and provide funding and financing from all available sources and programs—to entice investors to provide affordable mobile and fixed broadband access to households and businesses statewide, making Michigan a top-five state for mobile and fixed broadband access and adoption.

Connecting Michigan Taskforce

The Connecting Michigan Taskforce, an interagency working group, was created in October 2020 to align the work being done by state agencies and departments related to high-speed internet access. The taskforce is comprised of members that represent Michigan state agencies or units that relate closely to broadband, including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Department of Technology, Management & Budget, Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Transportation, Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Michigan Public Service, Michigan Infrastructure Council and the Library of Michigan. The taskforce works to improve the access, adoption, and use of broadband and technology across Michigan by:

  • Coordinating with local, regional, and state agencies as well as the private sector to increase broadband access and adoption in Michigan;
  • Recommending policy changes to improve broadband access and adoption in the state;
  • Identifying funding sources and opportunities to encourage investors to provide affordable broadband access to households and businesses statewide; and
  • Monitoring federal broadband-related activities for policies and funding opportunities that will impact broadband in Michigan.

Connecting Michigan Communities

Also in 2020, Gov. Whitmer signed into law the Broadband Expansion Act of Michigan, codifying the Connecting Michigan Communities (CMIC) grant program. The first round of CMIC grants awarded $12.7 million to projects across the state to increase broadband internet access. The projects will extend access to over 10,900 households, businesses, and community anchor institutions in Michigan.

Michigan Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks

On October 6, 2022, the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved Michigan's plan to use its full Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund allocation to support broadband expansion in the state. Michigan will receive $250.6 million for broadband infrastructure, which the state estimates will connect 67,857 households and businesses—representing 23% of locations still lacking high-speed internet access.

Michigan’s award will fund the Michigan Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks (ROBIN) program, a competitive grant program designed to provide funding to extend broadband infrastructure and service to locations currently lacking access to at least 100/20 Mbps. ROBIN is designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. 

Public Dollars for Michigan Broadband

In addition to the Capital Projects Fund allocation, during the Whitmer Administration, Michigan internet service providers have already secured $363 million through the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction, $32.6 million through the United States Department of Agriculture's Reconnect Program, and $4.8 million through the FCC's COVID-19 Telehealth Grant Program. In addition, Michigan's Merit Network—an independent nonprofit corporation governed by Michigan’s public universities—and Michigan State University are joint recipients of a $10.5 million National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Infrastructure Program Grant that will connect Michigan's many disparate Internet pathways. The state is also participating in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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