Fortunately, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lieutenant Garlin Gilchrist have made broadband access a priority for their administration, which they have done by creating the Michigan Office of High-Speed Internet (MIHI). But the MIHI office was just a shell because the legislature had yet to approve funding and full-time staff for the office. It is time for the legislature to act immediately so that our communities can connect and reach their full potential.
Whether it’s completing homework assignments, video chatting with loved ones, making sure small businesses are set up for e-commerce, getting telemedicine appointments, or applying for USDA farm grants and loans, much of everyday life Today it revolves around the Internet, even in remote and rural communities. The pandemic has taken the issue of internet access to a whole new level with remote learning, working from home, and connecting with friends and family. Rural communities lose out on a level playing field and success the longer high-speed Internet access remains unavailable.
The Michigan Office of High-Speed Internet was formed by Whitmer in June 2021 to ensure a single point of contact in Michigan for high-speed internet. But the truth is, the legislature still needs to approve MIHI. Therefore, in the months since, the office has remained stagnant with no full-time staff to do the important work of identifying current gaps in service areas and reporting these numbers to local governments.
Every Michigander deserves affordable, reliable, and secure Internet access. The dedicated, full-time staff of the MIHI office is an important part of ensuring that all communities can be on an equal footing. We’ve seen a lot of bipartisan work happening lately in Lansing, and we think this office is a good opportunity to build on that.
We appreciate that the legislature is trying to use our taxpayer money efficiently and wisely. But the truth is, the money is already there. Millions of dollars related to federal infrastructure are coming in the way of Michigan, some of which could be used to manipulate your Internet connection. And communities are hungry for shovel-ready projects to speed them up. The MIHI office is there and the funding is there. It’s just a matter of bringing the two together and owning one place to expand the internet.
Our state has to be competitive, in terms of education, business, health care and many other things that depend on the Internet, and we’re losing out on federal resources that can help provide these services to people. Our neighbors are already well ahead of the curve because they already have dedicated high speed internet offices with staff.
We agree with our elected officials, such as Rep. Michael Huetinga, Rep. R-Manton, and Rep. John Damos, R-Harbor Springs), who serve as chair and vice chairman of the House Communications and Technology Committee, as well as Senator Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth and Senator Jim Stamas, R-Midland), both members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, along with House General Government Committee Chairman Greg Vanwerkom, R-Norton Shores, and Vice President Anne Boleyn, R Brighton—we must honor our commitment to providing the Internet High speed for rural Michigan residents. We are losing valuable time by not having the staff to figure out where the resources should go to connect our communities.
It’s time for the legislature to act and approve the funding and full-time staff that will make MIHI effective—and most importantly, expand Internet access throughout the state. The internet has now become a part of our lives in ways many of us didn’t expect, so it can no longer be treated as anything other than the primary tool. If we want to see results and see our communities move forward, we need to act fast and get this office running.