By State Rep. Michele Hoitenga
The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed critical vulnerabilities to the interconnectedness of our state and communities. Lacking broadband access has continued to plague schools, businesses, telemedicine, and government operations – just to name a few – and this virus has further augmented this blind spot. The necessity of internet access has never been so fundamental to our day-to-day lives as it is now.
As chair of the House Committee on Communications and Technology, broadband expansion to unserved areas of Michigan has been my mission. As I studied the issues and realized community needs, I was excited to bring forth legislation to help broadband providers continue to expand their services. Last term, I introduced bills that streamline and enhance the overall permitting process for internet providers, which were signed by then-Gov. Snyder.
Further, last term we created a broadband expansion grant program called Connecting Michigan Communities (CMIC) with the intention of expanding services into unserved and underserved communities – unserved communities being the focal point. The first round of grant recommendations were to be posted this March. However, due to both internal delays within the Department of Technology Management and Budget and the current COVID-19 situation, that timeline has been delayed. I am following the current grant program closely to see what aspects of the grant application and distribution process worked well and what areas could be improved upon.
Why is this so important? The federal government has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in the CARES legislation, which means more federal money going towards broadband expansion. I have now introduced House Bill 4288, which would codify the CMIC program in statute for the long term. This bill would create a pathway for any state dollars dedicated toward the purpose of broadband expansion through an established grant process that allows for oversight and transparency for fund disbursements.
This crisis has dealt us a remarkably bad hand in nearly every way, but if greater broadband expansion can be one of the few silver linings, I plan to take full advantage to ensure a brighter, more connected future.
I remain committed to this issue and hope to have results that will better prepare us for any future crisis.