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Bridging the digital divide: Infrastructure dollars to boost West MI internet accessibility

Michigan will see $100 million in new federal broadband investments under the Biden Administration's infrastructure plan.

MICHIGAN, USA — Broadband access remains spotty at best across a number of West Michigan communities, which lack what's increasingly seen as a modern essential. A new bill that just passed may be the solution.

As part of President Joe Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in Washington, the following areas will see investments:

  • The state will receive more than $10 billion in total, according to Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
  • The largest portion — more than $7 billion — will be allocated to road repair, with a further $500-million for bridges.
  • Just over a billion will be put toward water infrastructure.
  • $100 million will help expand high speed internet access.

“We have to have good connectivity for our students to be successful.”

But out here, that’s easier said than done, Newaygo Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Wright related via Zoom Tuesday.

“Currently, we are faced in Newaygo County with a number of our families who do not have that reliable connectivity,” Wright said.

Internet is an increasingly essential tool of the trade, and yet around 53% of Newaygo County had no access to a broadband connection, per a recent FCC analysis.

Zooming out, an estimated one third or 31% of Michigan homes had no high speed service or faced many barriers that kept them offline, according to the Michigan High Speed Internet Office.

Rural communities stand to benefit in that regard from the cash infusion set aside as part of the Biden Administration’s infrastructure plan, which, Whitmer revealed, was expected to entail approximately $100 million in new federal dollars for broadband.

Add into the mix $180 million in third round funding from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund announced last month, though it remained unclear Tuesday when or where that money would be spent.

Data complied by BroadbandNow showed the Grand Rapids metro area surrounded by a patchwork of red and yellow blocks, many without a single provider.  

The consequences spill over from business, into medicine and that stack of homework on the table.

Studies cited by the state have shown GPA’s see a boost in homes with high speed access.

“We always look for ways to help our students be passionate about educational opportunities,” Wright explained. “To be able to do that and to dig in as deeply as they want to, that connectivity will be huge.”

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