Internet access for underserved areas in Michigan

Many of Michigan’s rural communities lack access to high-speed broadband internet service, but a grant program, Connecting Michigan Communities, aims to knock back the disparity with grants available to internet service provider (ISP) applicants representing impacted areas.

Announced in a July 2 news release by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office, the program offers $20 million in grants. Providers interested in applying had until Aug. 30 to do so, and grant awards are expected to be announced in April 2020. All projects should be completed by Sept. 30, 2023.

“Access to high-speed internet is a must to compete in today’s society,” said Whitmer. “Connecting all Michigan communities with broadband service is about leveling the playing field for every child and small business in the state. Everyone should be able to fully explore their passions and talents, no matter where they live, and not be held back by a lack of infrastructure.”

The news release noted that ISPs could apply for up to $5 million per grant and for multiple projects, and that scoring criteria included “community and economic development; readiness to build, operate and maintain the project; and the long-term viability of the project.”

Applications were submitted to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, but since grant funds had yet to be awarded when this issue went to press, it was impossible to provide specifics regarding businesses that will benefit. It is anticipated, however, that the value will be better in 2020 when the grants are to be announced.

“Information is opportunity. In order to make Michigan a center for innovation, imagination and entrepreneurship, everyone in our state needs and deserves the ability to participate in the global economy that is only accessible with high-speed internet,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. “This grant will help close the gap that some Michiganders experience today.”

According to the news release from Whitmer’s office, “Priority will be given to applications that demonstrate collaboration to achieve community investment and economic development goals in the areas impacted. Applicants must also show they have the managerial, financial and technical abilities to build, operate and manage a broadband network.”

Tom Ferree, chairman and CEO of Connected Nation in Washington, D.C., said expanding access to high-speed broadband would improve life in underserved areas.

“Michigan’s leaders are making a significant commitment that will positively impact communities across the state for years to come,” Ferree said. “The projects that are funded through this program will ultimately improve the quality of life for families and individuals by expanding access to the internet and the resources and opportunities it provides.”

Connected Nation is the parent organization of Connect Michigan. The Michigan Public Service Commission also is partnering with Connect Michigan.

According to the Connected Nation website, geographic information systems (GIS) can play a role in determining where underserved and unserved areas are. As the website puts it: “CN uses GIS to enable more efficient broadband data processing, aggregation and analysis, creating data visualization solutions that inform and empower a variety of stakeholders to resolve broadband issues in order to fulfill the great need and demand for quality broadband across the nation.”

At the July 2019 ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) User Conference, where the theme was “Seeing What Others Can’t,” Senior GIS Analyst Brian Dudek said, “‘Seeing What Others Can’t’ is exactly what GIS and geospatial professionals have done to shed light on the broadband data issues that exist at the federal level. More people have become aware of the issue. They have studied it and used GIS to better understand all the variables in order to respond to the problem effectively.”

GIS is used to convert data into practical approaches for “leveling the playing field,” as Whitmer described it, for communities that historically have not had sufficient access to broadband internet use.

How it all turns out will not be fully revealed until projects are completed in 2023.

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