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MICHIGAN

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WHY DOES SO MUCH OF MICHIGAN LACK BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS?

Access to, and use of, the internet has become an integral component of everyday life in the 21st century. Digital information has reshaped how individuals participate in nearly every dimension of society. Technology skills – enhanced by broadband networks and information access – are required to be successful in a modern workforce. Higher broadband deployment and adoption stimulates regional economic development and is associated with greater per capita income growth. Home values are increased when high-speed broadband is available. It is imperative for communities to leverage broadband network access for education, telemedicine, public safety and workforce development to maintain the quality of life.

According to the Wireless Innovation for Last Mile Access (WILMA) report, nearly 40% of rural America lacks access to broadband1. Connectivity, even via wireless networks, requires access to a backbone fiber optic network. In Michigan, rough terrain, including forests and dense substrates, makes physical infrastructure deployment both difficult and costly. Low population densities make economic return on investment problematic for commercial providers. Some rural areas of Michigan house as few as 2-20 individuals per square mile. Often, a for-profit organization cannot earn enough revenue to justify the costs of building a fiber connection to rural communities.

The Michigan Consortium of Advanced Networks (MCAN) created a roadmap for high-speed, secure, reliable, and affordable broadband service for the State of Michigan.

Access to, and use of, the internet has become an integral component of everyday life in the 21st century. Digital information has reshaped how individuals participate in nearly every dimension of society. Technology skills – enhanced by broadband networks and information access – are required to be successful in a modern workforce. Higher broadband deployment and adoption stimulates regional economic development and is associated with greater per capita income growth. Home values are increased when high-speed broadband is available. It is imperative for communities to leverage broadband network access for education, telemedicine, public safety and workforce development to maintain the quality of life.

According to the Wireless Innovation for Last Mile Access (WILMA) report, nearly 40% of rural America lacks access to broadband1. Connectivity, even via wireless networks, requires access to a backbone fiber optic network. In Michigan, rough terrain, including forests and dense substrates, makes physical infrastructure deployment both difficult and costly. Low population densities make economic return on investment problematic for commercial providers. Some rural areas of Michigan house as few as 2-20 individuals per square mile. Often, a for-profit organization cannot earn enough revenue to justify the costs of building a fiber connection to rural communities.

Advancements in technology are rapidly transforming how we work, communicate, access information, educate our children, manage our farms and provide medical care. These new capabilities are driving economic growth and innovation. However;

• 34 million Americans still lack access to basic, fixed broadband
This equates to 10% of the total US population that is not included in the digital economy, or 40% of rural America that is being left behind2

• 5 million households with school-aged children in the US lack access, creating the “homework gap,” which is likely to reinforce socio-economic divides that limit opportunities for households on the margins3

In addition to promoting economic development, facilitating education and sustaining and creating a viable workforce, access to broadband provides myriad resources and advantages within communities.

Increased connectivity can be leveraged to alleviate the “homework gap,” which refers to the barriers that non-connected students face when being asked to complete homework assignments at home. In some rural communities where high-speed internet is not available to residents’ homes, parents and their children park their vehicles outside libraries and schools in the evening to use those organizations’ wifi to complete homework assignments from parking lots.

In addition to education, broadband creates opportunities for telemedicine applications. Remote diagnosis, treatment and monitoring can be made available through telepresence, connecting medical professionals and home-bound patients. Governmental services access and public safety communications are also more effective within connected communities.

Fiber-optic broadband infrastructure is critical to a community’s ability to thrive in the modern world. Access to robust fiber infrastructure isn’t universal, unfortunately. This digital divide leaves the needs of many rural schools and libraries, rural for-profit businesses and rural households unmet.

Barriers to broadband network deployment in rural communities could be reduced through a combination of techniques. The granting of one-time funds to supplement network construction costs, through governmental or philanthropic programs, would help jumpstart network expansion. The creation of community connectivity task force teams would accelerate broadband expansion by helping local communities that don’t have all the expertise they desperately need for these complex projects. Sharing information and success stories from community connectivity experts broadly would also facilitate efforts across the state. Michigan has wonderful talent, but it is not available in all communities. Planning grants to support these efforts would help launch local community initiatives. Furthermore, urging the FCC to allow the innovative use of fallow wireless TV “white space” spectrum – while simultaneously enhancing e-rate rules to help students with broadband connectivity in their homes – would help narrow the “homework gap.”

An urban network upstart, Rocket Fiber, is taking on a self-described “Detroit Moonshot” by expanding fiber networks in our largest underserved urban area. Let’s now also work together in innovative public/private partnerships to make connectivity for every rural Michigan resident the new “Michigan Moonshot” – propelling us all into our collective digital future, regardless of geography.

Research and education networks (RENs), like Merit, are an important part of telecommunications landscape. RENs are community-building organizations that leverage networking and other technology services to help advance that mission. We exist to make our statewide community stronger and more successful – while endeavoring to bring organizations together to collaborate, learn and experiment so that they can become stronger as they work to advance society.

Merit’s mission is “connecting organizations and building community.” We provide network, security and community services to member organizations that help make our state a better place to learn, discover, work and live – while upholding the principles of an open internet.

Citizen Scientist Data Collection Project

Merit Network, with its deep expertise in advanced networking, and over 700 connections to Michigan’s community anchor, government, and non-profit institutions, is in a unique position to catalyze unserved communities towards achieving broadband access. The Quello Center is affiliated with the Department of Media and Information in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University.  Researchers at the Center  have a track record of examining broadband access to develop solutions that can help overcome digital divides. They also bring a rigorous understanding of data collection and survey methods to this project.

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IN THE NEWS

Access to high-speed internet in America is leading to a digital divide

Michigan’s digital divide affects more than 360,000 homes, leading to socioeconomic barriers that limit opportunities for those on the margins. The Michigan Moonshot aims to leverage public and private partnerships to connect everyone in rural Michigan, regardless of geography.

We Need a National Rural Broadband Plan

A federal rural telecommunications access plan is needed to address the underserved rural communities lacking broadband internet.

The Government is Using the Wrong Data to Make Crucial Decisions About the Internet

The U.S. government is currently using inaccurate broadband data to make crucial decisions about internet connectivity. This leaves disadvantaged regions and rural areas underserved due to decision makers’ lack of awareness about a population’s needs.

Michigan Lame Duck Legislature: Lip Service on Rural Broadband Investment

“Big cable and telecom lobbyists managed to locate a legislative vehicle for the components of last December’s bill to fund rural broadband, locking out some of the state’s most promising opportunities to bring better connectivity to those who need it the most.”

NTIA Partners with 8 States on Improvements to Broadband Availability Map

The NTIA is collaborating with 8 states to improve broadband access maps and help policy makers around the country make better decisions for broadband expansion.

Getting broadband to the ‘last mile’ a goal with no clear path

People broadly support the concept of “last mile” internet connections, which would help digital have-nots keep pace in the 21st century. But where do those “last miles” need to go? What should they look like? Who should pay for them, and how much?

Read the American Broadband Initiative February Milestones Report

This report outlines a vision for how the Federal Government can increase broadband access and actions that Agencies are taking to increase private-sector investment in broadband.

For more information, email [email protected].

INTERESTED IN MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE CITIZEN SCIENTIST DATA COLLECTION PROGRAM?

The Michigan Moonshot is Merit’s commitment to ending the digital divide. The Michigan Moonshot aims to leverage public and private partnerships to connect everyone in rural Michigan, regardless of geography.

The Moonshot Team needs citizen scientists, like YOU to help us gather data about the internet in your community.

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