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Opinion | It’s time to fully fund the Michigan high-speed internet office

The internet, whether you like it or not, is a necessity of modern life — but your ability to access it really depends on where you live. For too long, many communities, especially in rural areas, have been ignored by internet service providers which hindered expanding high-speed internet.

Joanne Galloway, Bob Thompson, Gary Wellnitz
Joanne Galloway is executive director of Center for Change Northern Michigan Advocacy; Bob Thompson is president of Michigan Farmers Union; Gary Wellnitz is Northern Michigan field representative, AFT-Michigan. (Courtesy photos)

Thankfully, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist have made broadband access a priority of their administration, which they’ve done by establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI). But the MIHI office has been sitting as just a shell because the Legislature has not yet approved the funding and full-time staff for the office. It’s time for the Legislature to act immediately so our communities can get connected and realize their full potential.

Whether it’s completing homework assignments, video chatting with our loved ones, making sure small businesses are set up for e-commerce, getting telemedicine appointments, or applying for USDA grant and loan programs for farms, much of today’s day-to-day life revolves around the internet, even in remote and rural communities. And the pandemic has elevated the issue of internet access to a whole new level with remote learning, working from home, and communicating with friends and family. Rural communities are losing out at the chance for equal opportunity and success the longer they don’t have high-speed internet access. 

The Michigan High-Speed Internet Office was formed by Whitmer in June 2021 to ensure Michigan has a single point of contact for high-speed internet. But the reality is that the Legislature still needs to approve MIHI. So, in the months since, the office has been sitting dormant with no full-time employees to do the important work of mapping current gaps in service areas and reporting these figures to local governments.

Every Michigander deserves access to affordable, reliable and secure internet. Dedicated full-time staff for the MIHI office is an important part of making sure that all communities can get on a level playing field. We’ve seen a lot of bipartisan work happening recently in Lansing, and we believe this office is a good chance to build on this.

We appreciate that the Legislature is trying to use our taxpayer money efficiently and prudently. But the fact is that the money already exists. Millions of federal infrastructure dollars are coming in Michigan’s direction, some of which can be used to address internet connectivity. And communities are hungry for shovel-ready projects to bring them up to speed. The MIHI office is there, and the funding is there. It’s just a matter of putting the two together and having a one-stop shop for internet expansion.

Our state needs to be competitive, in terms of education, business, healthcare, and so many other things which depend on the internet, and we’re losing out on the federal resources that can help deliver these services to people. Our neighboring states are already ahead of the curve because they already have dedicated high-speed internet offices with staffed personnel.

We agree with our elected officials, like Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, and Rep. John Damoose, R-Harbor Springs), who are chair and vice chair of the House Communications and Technology Committee, in addition to Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth) and Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland), both on the Senate Appropriations Committee, along with along with House General Government Committee Chair Greg VanWoerkom, R-Norton Shores and Vice Chair Ann Bollin, R-Brighton –– we should fulfill our commitment to delivering high speed internet for rural Michiganders. We are losing precious time by not having the personnel to figure out where resources should go to connect our communities.

 It’s time for the Legislature to act and approve the funding and full-time employees who will make MIHI effective –– and most importantly, expand internet access across the state. The internet is now part of our lives in ways many of us have not expected, so it can no longer be treated as anything other than a basic utility. If we want to see results and see our communities move forward, we need to act fast and get this office up and running.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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