Things in Michigan are likely to get a bit speedier—at least in the digital world.
Supporters of high-speed internet expansion in the state—which has already made major investments in the sector—hope an impending infusion of federal infrastructure money will close lingering accessibility gaps.
The $65 billion for high-speed internet (also known as broadband) projects in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill presents a historic opportunity, says Coralette Hannon, senior legislative representative in AARP’s government affairs department.
“States are going to play a critical role in getting us to the finish line,” Hannon says.
The bulk of the infrastructure money—$42.5 billion— will go to states, territories and Washington, D.C. Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million, and the balance will be allocated by need. Michigan could see about $1.3 billion, according to an early estimate from New York Law School.
AARP Michigan is focused on those who have no access to high-speed—mainly in rural areas— and those who have coverage but can’t afford the service.
In Detroit, where a third of the population lives in poverty, almost everyone has access to broadband but only 64 percent get it. In rural Michigan, only 86 percent have coverage.
For older Americans, broadband means access to online telehealth and education, easy interactions with loved ones, and more options for everyday life—from banking to entertainment.
“The pandemic showed us just how reliant many of us are on our internet connections,” Hannon says. “It’s not a luxury anymore.”
States Hand Out Funds
States have started planning their broadband investments, and consumers could see improvements by next year.
Many AARP state offices plan to make sure everyone is reached, aware of affordable options and educated on how to use the service.
Last year, for example, AARP Michigan worked with the city of Detroit to connect low-income residents 50 and older to a federal subsidy that cuts internet bills. The outreach effort distributed 5,000 applications to 50 faith-based organizations and developed ads for Black radio stations.
“You’ve got to meet the people where they are,” says Brenda Price, who is AARP Michigan’s community outreach director. The city wants to work with AARP this year on the new federal Affordable Connectivity Program, also aimed at low-income residents.
In addition, AARP Michigan supports digital education for older adults, and encourages collaboration with community groups and advocates for older adults. Once access improves, Michiganders need to be ready to use the internet and do so safely, says Melissa Seifert, the government affairs director for AARP Michigan.
The federal infrastructure money offers an opportunity for once-in-a-generation improvements, says Eric Frederick, executive director for the nonprofit Connected Nation Michigan.
“I truly believe this is the last time we’ll see an investment of this size for another 50 years or more,” Frederick says. “Let’s get it right the first time.”
AARP’s Personal Technology Resource Center has more information at aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology.
For a Federal Communications Commission broadband Q&A, go to fcc.gov/connected.
Sarah Hollander is a writer living in Cleveland
Election assistance: Michigan has primary elections Tuesday, Aug. 2. For information on registering and voting, go to aarp.org/mivotes or to the Michigan Voter Information Center at michigan.gov/vote.
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