Up North is unique, but lack of access shouldn’t be why

Northern Michigan is a unique place to call home.

I know it. You know it. Others, however, don’t have a clue.

Where else do you pick out a Halloween costume not by its looks, but how well it is going to fit over snowpants and a parka?

This week, hundreds of press releases crossed my desk, just like happens every week of the year. However, one in particular caught my eye and gave me reason to read and ponder it a bit longer than most. The release was from Connected Nation Michigan and dealt with a partnership between it and the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments to improve broadband internet to the region.

Just the day before, I had been sitting in my office with two officials of the Michigan Press Association and one of the main conversations we were having involved public notices, newspapers, and the internet.

While, today, public notices are required by state law to be placed in newspapers by public entities in Michigan, there has been much debate over the past two decades about utilizing the internet, either in part or in whole, for those notices, as well.

Which really isn’t a bad idea — when the internet works.

But, when it doesn’t, where would a person turn if that was the only means of viewing notices? Those of us who deal with the internet — or, for that matter, try to access cell service from our cottages and cabins — know that service is unpredictable, unreliable, or just plain unavailable.

That fact was confirmed by the release, which found over a third of households in the NEMCOG coverage area did not have access yet to high-speed internet services.

“As of September 2017,” the release stated, “nearly 36 percent of households in the NEMCOG region do not have access to high-speed internet service at the current Federal Communications Commission-defined speed.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, addressing the issue of educational access to broadband last week, said the state had made strides in making it available to more schools, but still had work to do.

“Right now, 450,000 Michigan households from the (Upper Peninsula) down to Detroit lack access to advanced broadband services,” she said. “So we have a responsibility and an opportunity to partner with experts to ensure that not only do our kids have access to high-speed internet, but that they can go home in the afternoon, go online, and complete their work.”

“We understand that we cannot allow families, businesses, and whole communities in Northeast Michigan to continue to be left out of the same opportunities so many others enjoy,” said Steve Schnell, community and economic development senior planner at NEMCOG. “Kids need access to do their homework, young adults need it to apply for jobs and colleges, seniors need it to access their health care records, and businesses need it to compete locally and globally.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Access to broadband internet service is essential to residents of the region.

Unfortunately, though, we still have significant strides to make before we all can get there.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.