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.
Equitable access to broadband is encouraged through incentives that stimulate competition, like the decrease in regulations on communications companies and the administration of subsidies to private companies to expand access to underserved areas.
- In 2015, broadband internet was classified as a public utility under net neutrality regulations by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and, in 2018, this decision was withdrawn. The implication of this decision is that state governments and local municipalities face greater barriers in implementing publicly owned broadband services.
- Regarding municipal broadband regulations, the Federal Appeals Court ruled in 2016 that the FCC cannot prevent states from enacting laws that limit municipal broadband, maintaining a state-power to influence broadband access as a private good.
- The FCC has also proposed limitations to the Lifeline program that provides low-income households with a small amount of funds towards broadband access.
- Recently, a House and a Senate Bill have been proposed related to broadband access,Community Broadband Act of 2017 (S.B. 742) and Community Broadband Act of 2018 (H.R. 4814). Both bills seek to remove legislative barriers for public entities seeking to implement and provide publicly-owned broadband services.