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Gov. Whitmer signs Executive Directive to expand internet access for Michiganders

(WILX)
Published: Jun. 2, 2021 at 11:46 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 1:02 PM EDT
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DETROIT, Mich. (WILX) - More accessible high-speed internet access will be coming to more Michiganders.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday issued Executive Directive 2021-02, with the goal of helping to bridge the digital divide by establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI). The new office is tasked with making high-speed internet more affordable and accessible.

Internet has become a necessity in our daily lives, and COVID-19 exacerbated that need with virtual classes, meetings, working from home, etc. Now, Governor Whitmer announced the new office at the Dick & Sandy Dauch Club, part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan.

“COVID-19 has only confirmed how the lack of high-speed internet access can cause too many Michiganders to struggle in their ability to engage in online learning, to use telemedicine to seek needed healthcare, to search for a new job or to take advantage of all the online resources,” said Governor Whitmer. “A fully connected Michigan is essential for our state to reach its economic potential in the 21st century global economy.”

Over $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to the digital divide. The divide includes both the hundreds of thousands of households that have not yet been reached by high-speed internet infrastructure, as well as the estimated 865,000 households that are disconnected due to the cost of subscribing to service or purchasing an appropriate device, a lack of digital skills, or other related barriers.

“Internet access is the most critical, enabling infrastructure that we can invest in. Whether you’re a student, an entrepreneur, a senior citizen, a farmer, a manufacturer, a job seeker, or any other Michigander, more opportunities and resources are available to you when you and your family are connected,” said Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II.

MIHI will be housed inside the Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). MIHI will be responsible for developing the State’s high-speed internet strategy and coordinating its funding and implementation. Under the directive, the department will designate a Chief Connectivity Officer to serve as head of the office.

“Expanding high-speed internet access and affordability will help ensure that Michigan remains a world leader in innovation,” said LEO Acting Director Susan Corbin. “We need to make major investments to support digital inclusion and this office will be focused on leveraging every dollar available through the American Recovery Plan and other federal programs.”

Gaps in high-speed internet availability, affordability, adoption, and use disproportionately impact communities of color, those in rural areas, and low-income households. Evidence demonstrates that increasing opportunities to get connected have a range of benefits, including:

Education

High-speed internet connections help students earn higher grades and build the digital skills they will need to succeed in higher education and the workforce. Students who miss out on digital skills are less likely to be interested in careers related to science, technology, engineering, and math. Regardless of socioeconomic status, students without a high-speed connection at home are less likely to attend college or university.

Health Outcomes

Telemedicine has long been recognized as a way to increase access to care in areas where reaching a provider’s office in-person can be challenging or to make it possible to consult with a specialist without having to travel to a major medical center. In addition, there is evidence that telemedicine reduces hospitalizations of nursing home patients and reduces health care costs.

Small Businesses

Small businesses that have websites have higher annual revenues and are more likely to have recently hired one or more employees than similar businesses that aren’t online. Those that use social media weekly are three times more likely to have hired recently than those that don’t.

Seniors

Increased access to the internet can help address issues of isolation among older adults. Studies have shown that isolation is associated with worse health outcomes and even premature death among adults age 50 and over.

“Affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access can provide new opportunities for Michiganders 50 and over to use telehealth and other technologies that improve the quality of life and enable more people to age in place, where they prefer to be,” said Paula D. Cunningham, AARP Michigan State Director. “Broadband can support devices that make home health care a viable option for people with limited mobility or who live in rural areas far from health care facilities.”

Civic Engagement

Broadband is essential for the modern electorate to have access to educational materials about candidates and issues on ballots, as well as information on voter registration and precinct locations.

Climate Change Advanced grid technologies such as sensors, advanced metering infrastructure, grid monitoring and control systems, and remote reconfiguration and redundancy systems will be used to detect and solve problems remotely.

Rural Development

Gaining high-speed internet connections can help support economic development in virtually all sectors of rural economies, ranging from farming to manufacturing to tourism and recreation. Rural communities that lack connectivity struggle to recruit businesses and retain population.

“Bridging the digital divide is a critical need for our state’s rural communities, Main Street businesses and agriculture sector, and we appreciate Governor Whitmer’s commitment to ensure state government is unified in its approach to tackling this challenge,” said Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. “We look forward to working with the new Office of High-Speed Internet to share agriculture’s unique perspective and do our part to connect Michigan.”

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