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Rural Michigan advocates want legislature to act on broadband

Jason Matthews

As legislators consider Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed budget, northern Michigan residents are asking them to authorize funding for the office that handles broadband projects.

Gov. Whitmer formed the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office last May to address the more than 212,000 homes that don’t have access to a high-speed internet connection.

At a news conference Wednesday, some rural residents said it’s taking too long to allocate the money and hire the eight person team.

Joanne Galloway, the executive director of Center for Change Northern Michigan Advocacy, said they want the approved budget to include resources for broadband expansion, so the state can take advantage of federal funding.

“Our neighboring states around us already have [high-speed internet] staff in place in offices,” she said. “We’re going to be competing with others all across this country for access to all of the supplies to do the construction and all of the labor force.”

Gary Wellnitz, the northern Michigan field representative for the American Federation of Teachers, said the need is "dire" in the Upper Peninsula.

Local projects in Mackinac County, where he lives, have increased internet connectivity, but he said it only goes so far. Just about every district he represents has problems with students and staff getting online at home, Wellnitz said.

“We simply do not have the ability to reach out to these kids in their homes,” he said.

Wellnitz said the lack of connectivity also hurts the regions’ economic prospects. Since the pandemic, he said more people have expressed interest in moving to the U.P. for remote work or to open up a small business, only to be stopped by the lack of a good internet connection.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.