Already split into a lower and upper peninsula, Michigan is also facing a digital divide. A non-profit group, Connected Nation, seeks to make broadband available and affordable to a wide audience. Outside of metropolitan areas like Detroit, much of Michigan lacks adequate access to broadband services, reports CadillacNews.com.
“It’s a 25-megabyte desert,” said Eric Frederick, vice president of Connect Michigan.
Connected Nation published a map last month showing how much of the state is, or is not, digitally connected. Areas of internet scarcity are easily visible, but Frederick cautioned that many regions that map as “covered” are not truly connected. Mobile wireless providers are not required to report their speeds, leaving some households operating at a crawl. This is especially difficult for students, he added, who are expected to keep up with their school work despite the slow internet speeds.
“You’re stuck with whatever is offered to you,” Frederick said. “Second to availability, affordability is the biggest struggle for people.”
“Getting a better picture of who has coverage and who doesn’t is a critical first step to closing the Digital Divide in Michigan,” said Michigan Public Service Commissioner, Tremaine Phillips of the Connected Nation map. “It is important to identify where there are unserved or underserved households, businesses, and communities in our state so that internet providers in partnership with community leaders are empowered to commit resources and make investments where additional broadband access is needed most. Having complete and reliable data is key to making that possible.”
Identifying areas with inadequate broadband, and bringing affordable high speed connections to people who need them is an ongoing challenge. “We’re stretched pretty thin financially,” said School Superintendent Kim Blaszak, who said that her Lake City Area school district has already spent close to $1 million to get their students connected. “Educating in this way is totally different. We’re doing everything we can to be as supportive to parents and students as we can. We’re also trying to teach students who are still attending in person how to function online if they have to go remote again” in the event of another shutdown.