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Gov. Whitmer creates new office to expand broadband internet access in Michigan

Michigan High-Speed Internet Office will coordinate and advance efforts to improve internet service
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is creating the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office to improve access to...
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is creating the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office to improve access to broadband service across the state.
Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 1:05 PM EDT
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DETROIT, Mich. (WJRT) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a measure Wednesday to create a new state office tasked with expanding access to broadband internet service in Michigan.

The Michigan High-Speed Internet Office is designed to coordinate and advance efforts to provide better internet service in underserved urban and rural areas of the state. Whitmer has a goal of providing high-speed internet to every home and business statewide.

She did not announce a timeline extending broadband service to every corner of Michigan on Wednesday.

Whitmer said broadband internet service is essential to modern life for access to education, telemedicine, job searching and a variety of other resources. Lack of quality internet access costs Michigan $2.5 billion per year in lost economic benefits.

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

Whitmer said the digital divide results from high-speed internet service not being offered in some areas of Michigan and some households unable to afford the service in areas where it is available.

“There is bipartisan consensus that we need to close gaps in internet access and adoption,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II. “This is our generational opportunity to leverage the tremendous resources that are being made available at the federal level to develop the innovative partnerships that will achieve the goal of getting every home and business the high-speed connection they need.”

Republicans included a proposed $150 million allocation to expand broadband access in a $13 billion plan to spend Michigan’s share of federal COVID-19 relief money.

Republicans who control the Legislature passed House Bill 4210 earlier this year, which was designed to improve high-speed internet in rural areas by offering tax credits to develop the service. Whitmer vetoed the bill, saying the minimum speed required of 25 megabits per second was not fast enough.

Republican State Rep. Phil Green of Millington said the 25 megabits per second speed was based on an FCC standard set after President Joe Biden took office. He said it would be a vast improvement over the 4 megabits per second he currently gets at home.

“I can’t even use video conferencing from my home most of the time,” Green said in April. “People in our area and rural areas throughout Michigan would be very pleased with 25 megabits per second, as it would change their lives dramatically.”

Whitmer did not mention a goal for internet speed in underserved areas as part of her announcement Wednesday.

Expanding broadband internet access has long been a goal of Michigan politicians from both parties. Former Gov. Rick Snyder outlined the Michigan Broadband Roadmap in the final year of his administration to improve the state’s 30th place ranking for availability.

Whitmer created the Connecting Michigan Task Force in October 2020 and signed legislation to continue the Connecting Michigan Communities grant program, which has awarded over $12.7 million to connect over 12,000 more homes and businesses to high-speed internet.

Michigan companies also have received over $450 million in federal grants to expand broadband internet service from a variety of programs over the past two years.

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