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Virus Highlights Gap in Michigan's Broadband Internet Access

The following was published in Westport News on April 18, 2020 from an Associated Press article

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Stay-at-home orders adopted to slow down the coronavirus are highlighting the lack of broadband internet access faced by thousands of Michigan residents.

When Wesley Clark needed a new wheelchair, his doctor spoke on the phone to explain the set-up because he and his 79-year-old wife Janet don’t have internet in their house, between Mason and Eaton Rapids.

hey are among 381,000 Michigan households without the infrastructure for broadband internet at a level considered adequate by the Federal Communications Commission, the Lansing State Journal reported.

The increasing use of the internet for daily activities, ranging from remote schooling to tele-health appointments, is highlighting the challenge in many rural areas of the state.

In Ingham County, 6% of households, about 6,647, lack the necessary infrastructure for broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps. About 14% of households with children don’t have broadband or dial-up internet at home, according to an analysis by the Michigan League for Public Policy based on responses to the U.S. Census.

The problem worsens in rural counties of Eaton and Clinton, where about 16% of households don’t have the infrastructure for broadband of at least 25/3 Mbps.

To address this, the Lansing school district plans to combine homework packets with online instruction. The district’s 5,000 computers might be distributed to students.

The FCC offers a subsidy for internet service providers to expand into rural communities. But the service is market-driven, which doesn’t compel providers to build broadband infrastructure in places where houses are far apart, said Eric Frederick, director of Connected Nation Michigan, a group that works with state regulators on broadband strategies.

The affordability of internet is also part of the problem for Lansing resident Chris Pruitt, who was homeless. He receives his cellphone and data plan through a federal program. He said he's anxious about being cut off from coronavirus news when his data runs out.

Frederick said the pandemic has underscored the struggles of people who don’t have access to reliable internet.

“It’s not a want-to have,” Frederick said. “It’s a need-to have. It’s sad that it took a virus to make people see that.”

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