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Huron Daily Tribune
Gilchrist: Expanding broadband crucial for rural families
By Mark Birdsall,
In addition to serving as Michigan's lieutenant governor, Garlin Gilchrist is also a father. That’s why it’s clear to him that access to high-speed internet access is crucial for families in the state.
Many families in rural areas of the state found themselves in a bind when schools closed two years ago as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Michigan. They had no internet access, which made their children’s transition to remote learning a seemingly insurmountable task.
"What was first and foremost clear is the fact that we don't have equal internet access all across the state of Michigan," Gilchrist said. "And so that's why the governor and I really have prioritized (expanding high-speed internet access."
He said that’s why the bipartisan Building Michigan Together Plan includes some of the largest infrastructure investments in Michigan history, including $250.6 million to establish a grant program for governmental/educational institutions to receive funds to operate or construct a broadband network. Whitmer signed the bill on March 30.
During an interview with the Tribune earlier this week, Gilchrist said he spoke with parents in places like the Thumb and the Upper Peninsula during the early days of the pandemic, and he understood the disadvantages families without broadband access are facing.
"This is critical for our state to move forward, and we've been excited to work with our Republican partners in the Legislature on a bipartisan basis to pass some real transformational legislation to make internet access a reality for more people and more places," Gilchrist said.
The Building Michigan Together Plan aims to connect more households and small businesses to high-speed internet with $250 million in funding to improve access and adoption of broadband throughout the state. Gilchrist said their administration has set a goal to provide 100% access to high-speed internet and 95% adoption by households during the next five years.
They’ve also created the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office and the Connecting Michigan Task Force to coordinate the state’s high-speed internet work and align the efforts with economic development opportunities.
"(We're working) to make sure the internet access projects can be started and completed in rural communities so that kids, families and seniors can really take advantage of the benefits that everything the internet brings to us," Gilchrist said.
In addition to education, expanding broadband to underserved areas will give farmers the tools they need to utilize technological advances that can improve crop yields and improve land and water management, he said. High-speed internet will also give seniors the ability to access health care through services like telemedicine and receive care from specialists without having to travel across the state, Gilchrist said.
"We think that internet access will help build a bridge," he said.
Ensuring that broadband access is affordable is also an important part of the work they’ll have to do, Gilchrist added. He said he’s had discussions in Washington with FCC and Biden administration officials about a program that would make high-speed internet access available for $30 a month for lower-income families.
"We're going to be promoting that program very heavily in Michigan when it rolls out," he said.