Equitable Access to Broadband in Michigan
By Sruthi Naraharisetti
Reliable and high-speed broadband access is increasingly necessary as vital services become more reliant on the internet. When completing everyday tasks, like completing homework, filing taxes, paying bills, and applying for college or jobs, those without access to internet are becoming further left behind. In Michigan, 9.8% of residents do not have high-speed broadband access at home compared to the national rate of 7.7%. Of those residents without access, the burden falls disproportionately on residents in rural regions (88.5% without access) and residents with low incomes. Additionally, this disparity may be understated as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) only collects data on the availability of high-speed broadband. This means that even in communities where broadband is available, individuals with a low-income may still be unable to afford and access services.
In this brief, the policy landscape for equitable broadband access in Michigan is discussed at the federal, state, and local levels. At the federal and state level, the approach to equitable access to broadband is encouraged through state regulations and private sector implementation. At the local level, some municipal governments seek to address inequities in broadband access through municipal-owned broadband. Further resources are offered.
For Michigan residents, a lack of broadband access falls disproportionately on individuals with a low income and in rural areas. Federal and state policy restrictions limit broadband expansion to private sector companies, however, more local communities are seeking to increase access through municipal-owned broadband. From case studies across the country, research suggests that municipal broadband can have promising results for communities through more equitable access to high-speed internet, lower market prices for broadband, a high return on investment, and increased home value, among other benefits. However, foundations and non-profits conduct much of this research and there is a need for greater evidence that is peer-reviewed and published by academic institutions. Prominent examples of publicly owned broadband in Michigan can be found in several communities, including Coldwater, Crystal Falls, Holland, Marshall, Negaunee, Norway, Sebewaing, Traverse City, Wyandotte, and Lyndon Township.