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Published in Economic Development

Whitmer creates statewide office to oversee high speed internet buildout

BY Wednesday, June 02, 2021 02:12pm

 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has announced the creation of a statewide office that will coordinate efforts to make high speed internet service more accessible and affordable in Michigan.

Part of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office is responsible for “convening and coordinating departments and agencies in the advancement, implementation, and funding of the state’s current and future efforts to ensure that every home and business in Michigan can access high-speed internet services that meet their needs,” according to Whitmer’s executive order.

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A dedicated state office on high speed internet access “will help ensure these efforts are as coordinated, focused, and effective as possible,” the executive order states.

Whitmer said today that high speed, reliable and affordable internet access has become a necessity for education, businesses and individuals amid the rise of remote work and instruction and telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has only confirmed how the lack of high-speed internet access can cause too many Michiganders to struggle in their ability to engage in online learning, to use telemedicine to seek needed health care, to search for a new job or to take advantage of all the online resources,” Whitmer said in a statement. “A fully connected Michigan is essential for our state to reach its economic potential in the 21st century global economy.”  

The governor’s office estimates that bridging the so-called digital divide represents a $2.5 billion potential economic benefit for the state.

An estimated 865,000 households in Michigan lack high speed internet access because of the cost for service or buying a needed device, or other barriers such as a lack of skills, Whitmer said.

“We must work to bridge this divide and ensure that every home and business in Michigan can access high-speed internet services that meet their needs,” the executive order states. “Achieving this goal requires a multi-faceted approach, including developing the necessary infrastructure to bring service to each home and business in our state, assisting those who otherwise could not afford service, and ensuring that resources to increase digital literacy are available to all.”

Led by a “chief connectivity officer,” the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office will lead development of a state strategy and coordinate funding and implementation.

“Having this single point of contact will help to create a more digitally equitable state and ensure every Michigander has what they need to succeed in a digital economy,” said Eric Fredrick, vice president for community affairs for Connected Nation Michigan, an organization that advocates for greater broadband internet access.

In October 2020, Whitmer formed the Connecting Michigan Taskforce, a work group of state agencies that sought to coordinate the efforts on high-speed internet access. The group codified the Connecting Michigan Communities grant program that has since awarded $12.7 million in state grants to connect 12,200 homes and businesses to high speed internet access. The state will award additional grants later this month.

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