Published in Economic Development

Whitmer directive lays out priorities for millions in federal broadband internet funding

BY Monday, November 29, 2021 03:56pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued an executive directive calling on state agencies to work with the Legislature to spend tens of millions of dollars that Michigan is set to receive for broadband internet under the new federal infrastructure law.

According to the directive issued today, state agencies “will play a critical role in mobilizing these dollars and ensuring they are spent responsibly, efficiently, and in compliance with the law.” Previous media reports show Michigan stands to gain $100 million to improve broadband internet access as part of the more than $10 billion the state will receive under the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Biden early this month.

“High-speed internet access has become a necessity for full participation in the economy and society. But for many Michiganders, the physical infrastructure that carries high-speed internet simply does not reach their communities,” Whitmer wrote in the directive. “For others, connectivity is unattainable due to the cost of service or the devices required to connect. This lack of connectivity can make it difficult for a person to choose the life they want: to learn online, use telemedicine, work remotely, advertise their business, and even connect with family located elsewhere.”

The move directs state departments and “autonomous agencies” to follow nine priorities, including working with the Legislature to leverage the federal funding and “work expeditiously to ensure that high-speed internet projects in this state rely on Michigan businesses that create jobs for Michigan workers.”

Other directives involve prioritizing spending that could coincide with other infrastructure projects, pursuing discretionary federal grants that could further bolster the infrastructure funding, and creating a “robust and granular map” of areas most in need of high-speed internet.

The directive also seeks to identify and eliminate barriers to “digital equity.” 

“Investments in high-speed internet create economic prosperity and ensure families and small businesses can rely on their connections to work, learn, and access critical information and services,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The new infrastructure bill’s funding will build on work we have already done in this space and help us usher in a new era of prosperity for our state. I look forward to working with the legislature to invest these dollars and get the job done.” 

While in office, Whitmer has set a goal to have high-speed internet adoption at 95 percent of Michigan households over the next five years. To date, the state’s Connecting Michigan Communities Grant Program has expanded service to 18,900 homes and businesses.

The federal infrastructure funding is on top of more than $400 million Michigan has received in various grants and pandemic relief to expand high-speed internet access statewide.

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