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Cut off: Coronavirus pandemic worsens hardship for thousands of Lansing area residents without internet

"It's not a want to have. It's a need to have. It's sad that it took a virus to make people see that." ~Eric Frederick, Executive Director, Connected Nation Michigan

The following story was published in the Lansing State Journal on April 14, 2020
by Sarah Lehr

Wesley Clark, 84, needed a new wheelchair.

His doctor wanted to explain via video chat how to set it up, but the Clarks don't have internet at their house in the country between Mason and Eaton Rapids.

So Clark's wife, 79-year-old Janet, talked to the doctor on the telephone, which she said was less than ideal.

Their household is one of 381,000 in Michigan without the infrastructure for broadband internet at a level considered adequate by the Federal Communications Commission, which is speeds of at least 25 megabits per second download by 3 Mbps upload.

That's according to 2018 data released from a partnership between Connect Michigan, a nonprofit that advocates for expanded access to broadband, and the Michigan Public Service Commission, a state oversight board.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has thrown that digital divide into sharp relief. Because the disease spreads easily between people, schools are moving classes online, non-emergency doctors are switching to telehealth appointments and employees are working from home while businesses deemed nonessential are required to shut their doors.

Thousands of Ingham County families aren't wired for broadband

In Ingham County, 6% of households, or some 6,647 families, don't have the infrastructure for broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps, making them underserved or in some cases completely unserved.

More than 250 households in the county, or less than a quarter of a percent, don't even have broadband at 3 Mbps/768 kilobits per second, what Eric Frederick, director of Connect Michigan, considers "the bare minimum." That level could be enough for browsing the web and downloading small files, but it won't support two-way video chat.

Related:How the coronavirus pandemic affects kids in Lansing

Broadband, the most common way to access the internet, can be delivered via DSL, cable, satellite and fiber-optic systems.

Dial-up internet, a less popular alternative, tends to be cheaper than broadband but much slower.

Rural areas of Michigan are less likely to be fully wired for broadband and Eaton and Clinton counties are no exception. In those counties, nearly 16% of households don't have the infrastructure for broadband of at least 25/3 Mbps.

Read the full story by clicking here.