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MI broadband expert: Infrastructure money could 'conquer the digital divide'

The comment came as the state Democratic Party celebrated the legislative win during a virtual press conference.

MICHIGAN, USA — The prospect of leveling the proverbial playing field had Democratic lawmakers and state party officials thrilled over expectations the state would see a large chunk of the federal bipartisan infrastructure package’s earmark for broadband funding.

Even in the "digital age," sluggish download speeds and endless buffering remain familiar small-town stumbling blocks.

Access and the lack thereof, experts stress, has given rise to a "digital divide."

In Michigan, some 12% of residents face barriers preventing them from getting online.

“For rural families, affordable and reliable internet is an equity issue, equity of access, equity of opportunity and equity of communication,” Michigan Democratic Party Rural Caucus Chair Cathy Albro explained during a Monday virtual briefing. “Without this equity, rural communities will be left behind.”

The party, celebrating the estimated $100 million in new federal infrastructure dollars, expected to hit Michigan’s high-speed balance books in the coming days.

An even larger grant allocation from the FCC, meanwhile, has pushed total new investments and upgrades to $300 million statewide.

“We can't look back and turn back to a time when not everyone was connected,” Eric Frederick said via phone last week. “We have to make sure that everyone has that connectivity.”

Frederick, the executive director of Connect Michigan, the organization charged with spearheading the state’s efforts to set up a dedicated high-speed internet office, said the funding may prove sufficient to universalize affordable access.

“This is a once-in-a-generation type investment…this has the opportunity…to finally connect every location in the state and truly conquer the digital divide,” he said.

The Michigan High Speed Internet Office, which Frederick expects to open early next year, would oversee the growing pool of new investments.

A specific time-table with regard to distribution of funds has not yet been released.

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