Infrastructure bill includes money improved internet access

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan government is one step closer to getting the money needed to staff a whole new office.

Once that office is up and running, it will be tasked with getting reliable broadband internet to areas that have long dealt with spotty coverage. It’s all in a supplemental budget Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed earlier this week.

“There’s lots of pockets that don’t have great internet,” said Joanne Galloway, who serves as the executive director of Center for Change: a Northern Michigan Advocacy Group. “It isn’t just a U.P. problem. It’s not just a northern Michigan problem. It’s just outside of Battle Creek.”

Center for Change has been working on this issue for the last couple of years. Michigan already has an office that’s designed to help the more than 200,000 Michiganders without reliable internet, called the Michigan High Speed Internet Office, created by Governor Whitmer last spring. But in the months since it was created, money hasn’t been allocated in the legislature to actually get it up and running. That is, until this week.

“Which meant it was just a shell of an office,” Galloway said.

A map provided by the Governor’s office shows that even the Lansing area is sort of spotty, especially just outside of Charlotte. But it’s even worse up North. There’s even less access.

Internet access map

Office of the Governor

Internet access map of Michigan

Lack of reliable internet access has been a problem for rural areas since even before the pandemic and it has highlighted just how much schools and students rely on access to the internet.

“We are not reaching about one third of the school population,” said Gary Wellnitz with the American Federation of Teachers. “And that’s pretty much across the board in any one of the various communities that I serve, which is most of them across Northern Michigan.”

In total, the infrastructure bill includes $250 million to pay for a full time staff at the new office and fund grants for constructing and managing the improved broadband network.

“It’s time that Michiganders took control over the development of the broadband infrastructure here in Michigan,” Galloway said. “So that we have people dedicated to creating a plan and a plan that’s going to make sure that everyone in the state gets high speed internet.”

The supplemental budget also includes money to improve roads, housing, parks and water.

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