Rural broadband moves net positive
The world hurtles forward at high speeds, leaving too many rural Michigan families behind.
Some will be able to catch up by way of the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal initiative to credit families $30 toward their internet bills if they make 200% of the federal poverty level or less — up to $55,500 for a four-person household in 48 states.
This, and a Federal Communications Commission program to credit Indigenous families $75 a month, seeks to close the digital divide.
Getting households online is refreshingly bipartisan, and this latest move joins a growing pot of state and federal spending on bringing families online. Cherry Capital Communications is using Rural Development Opportunity Fund money to connect up to 2,781 homes spread across eight counties, including Benzie, Leelanau and Grand Traverse. The Legislature also just passed a $250 million boost to build high-speed internet in rural areas.
Still, a shocking number of our state’s residents don’t have access to high-speed internet — more than 17% of households, according to federal data in a recent Government Technology story. Twenty-three out of the state’s 83 counties remain underserved — where 80% of the population has no access to broadband or high-speed broadband.
Initiatives are great, but there is more work to be done. High-speed internet is often an issue of access — or lack thereof.
Companies participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program say the increased demand could increase the likelihood of running fiber in more rural areas. We hope so. High speed internet is viewed by advocates as an economic engine and — more and more — a necessity as education and services increasingly move online.
Bridging the digital divide for rural families will require building and infrastructure. It’s the only way to get Michigan’s families up to speed.