Mapping a better future for broadband in Michigan

If you live in a rural – or even urban – area of Michigan and lack internet service or even high-speed internet, now’s your chance to be heard. 

The Michigan High Speed Internet Office has created an internet map that shows where internet coverage currently exists in Michigan and where it does not. Local governments and residents are encouraged to review the map for accuracy. There may be areas where service is supposed to be available but is not. There may also be issues with high-speed internet. The goal is to make sure those areas are identified.

The effort is part of a $42.5 billion federal project, Broadband Equity Access and Deployment or BEAD, to expand and improve broadband infrastructure across the country. Michigan’s BEAD eligibility map shows broadband coverage across the state. 

The map is a major step in helping officials identify broadband needs across the state. Michigan is poised to receive $1.59 billion for the project, the fourth largest allotment among the states. The grant is intended to expand access to high-speed internet by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs.

Michigan State University Extension and Merit Network, Inc., an independent statewide nonprofit, have been working to provide community outreach. 

“The map is going to serve as a roadmap in terms of where that $1.59 billion is invested,” says David Ivan, director of MSU Extension’s programming related to community, food and the environment. “This is a once in a generational opportunity for us to take a humongous step in terms of improving broadband service.”

As part of the federal program, Michigan (like other states) was required to complete a mapping exercise to document broadband service coverage.  Michigan officials built upon a federal map, National Broadband Map, which many contend was not accurate. 

On the BEAD eligibility map, residents, businesses and others can type in their address to check whether their service or lack of is accurately designated. The map uses various colors to show “served, underserved and unserved” areas. It also indicates levels of broadband speed, service providers and other information. 

State and nonprofit officials emphasize that it's essential the map is accurate to be able to improve broadband service to underserved or unserved areas. Communities and residents have 30 days, beginning March 25, to submit corrections or “challenges.” The deadline is April 23.

Local governments and residents can challenge service and or internet speed. For example, if the map shows service is available at a certain location and it currently is not, that’s grounds for a challenge. If the map indicates high speed internet is available at a location and it is not or not reliably received at designated speeds, that can be challenged too. BEAD defines high speed internet as 100 megabits per second download. 

“The closer our state map is to matching the reality of our residents, businesses, and communities experience in their everyday lives, the better positioned we'll collectively be to address the digital divide," Ivan says.

Once finalized, the map will determine which homes, businesses and non-profit organizations Michigan will prioritize for internet infrastructure improvement. The state will administer a grant program that internet service providers and organizations can apply for funding to build the missing infrastructure. 

According to the Michigan High Speed Internet Office, nearly 500,000 households across the state are unserved or underserved by high-speed internet infrastructure and another 730,000 households face barriers related to a combination of affordability, adoption, device access and digital literacy. 

What that means is that about 30 percent of Michigan households do not have affordable, reliable high-speed internet connection that meets their needs. 

“Access to high-speed internet is an equity issue,” says Chris Greene Hutchings, who is program manager for Merit’s Michigan Moonshot, which provides programs and services for broadband expansion and capacity building within local governments.

Research has shown that there are economic and long-term implications in communities without adequate broadband coverage, affecting businesses, education and more. The lack of broadband service can affect the grade point averages of students, whether they attend college and whether they pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Access to the internet is not going to cure all of our society’s ills,” she says. “But we can’t fix those problems without the internet.”

Underserved areas of Michigan vary. The bulk of those areas are less densely populated. However, there are neighborhoods in densely populated areas that don’t have high speed internet. There are instances of unserved residents in every county. Even Oakland County, one of the best connected in the state, is home to areas that are disconnected, Hutchings says.

“Every county in the state has homes and businesses (in this category),” she says. “This is all about making sure we find those folks.”

While local governments and nonprofits can challenge the map directly, residents cannot (a federal decision). Residents must submit their evidence to correct the map via an eligible challenger. Merit is that eligible challenger and has created a website, BEAD Challenge, for residents to do just that.  

Merit Network, which provides high-performance networking, IT, Security, and community engagement solutions to Michigan's public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, and others, also has free communication materials available to local governments to help get the word out to residents. 

To challenge the map, go to the Merit BEAD Mapping Challenge.
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