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Gov. Whitmer Signs Executive Directive to Expand High-Speed Internet Access for Michiganders

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer today issued Executive Directive 2021-02 to help bridge the digital divide by establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI) to make high-speed internet more affordable and accessible. This office is the first of its kind ever in state government.

This latest announcement from the Governor aligns with the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2021 legislative priorities to promote private investment, along with state and federal grants, to further statewide broadband expansion and improvement for education and employment opportunities.

More than $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to the digital divide. The divide includes both the hundreds of thousands of households that have not yet been reached by high-speed internet infrastructure, as well as the estimated 865,000 households that are disconnected due to the cost of subscribing to service or purchasing an appropriate device, a lack of digital skills, or other related barriers.

MIHI will be housed inside the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and be responsible for developing the State’s high-speed internet strategy and coordinating its funding and implementation. Under the directive, the department will designate a Chief Connectivity Officer to serve as head of the office.

Gaps in high-speed internet availability, affordability, adoption, and use disproportionately impact communities of color, those in rural areas, and low-income households. Evidence demonstrates that increasing opportunities to get connected have a range of benefits, including:

  • Education: High-speed internet connections help students earn higher grades and build the digital skills they will need to succeed in higher education and the workforce. Students who miss out on digital skills are less likely to be interested in careers related to science, technology, engineering, and math. Regardless of socioeconomic status, students without a high-speed connection at home are less likely to attend college or university.
  • Health Outcomes: Telemedicine has long been recognized as a way to increase access to care in areas where reaching a provider’s office in person can be challenging or to make it possible to consult with a specialist without having to travel to a major medical center. In addition, there is evidence that telemedicine reduces hospitalizations of nursing home patients and reduces health care costs.
  • Small Businesses: Small businesses that have websites have higher annual revenues and are more likely to have recently hired one or more employees than similar businesses that aren’t online. Those that use social media weekly are three times more likely to have hired recently than those that don’t.
  • Seniors: Increased access to the internet can help address issues of isolation among older adults. Studies have shown that isolation is associated with worse health outcomes and even premature death among adults age 50 and over.
  • Civic Engagement: Broadband is essential for the modern electorate to have access to educational materials about candidates and issues on ballots, as well as information on voter registration and precinct locations.
  • Climate Change: Advanced grid technologies such as sensors, advanced metering infrastructure, grid monitoring, and control systems, and remote reconfiguration and redundancy systems will be used to detect and solve problems remotely.
  • Rural Development: Gaining high-speed internet connections can help support economic development in virtually all sectors of rural economies, ranging from farming to manufacturing to tourism and recreation.  Rural communities that lack connectivity struggle to recruit businesses and retain population.