I checked in with Dexter Township Trustee Mike Compton to see if he thinks the repeal of Net Neutrality will help pave the way to getting better internet service in rural areas.
“Net Neutrality” refers to the regulations initiated under the Obama administration in 2015 that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T from giving preference for some sites and apps over others. Republican Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai led an effort that removed the regulations last December.
One of Pai’s arguments in the hotly debated, and at times emotional, issue was that deregulation would pave the way for better internet service to rural areas. This is a significant statement. Poor broadband has been a big frustration for Dexter area residents living out in the country. As reliance on the internet continues to increase, lack of reliable broadband service becomes more critical in issues of school and schoolwork, business, general communication and even property values.
“In today’s society they NEED the internet, not just want it”, says Compton. “Think of it this way, would you buy a house that did not have internet service?”
The FCC reported in 2016 that about 39-percent of rural areas across the country lack access to high-speed internet service and Trustee Compton has taken on the effort to solve this problem that no one has yet been able to solve. The main argument from ISPs is that the money just hasn’t been there to develop outlying, low return areas. ISPs claimed, along with Pai, that repeal would make rural internet development fiscally feasible.
We want to know if this is going to help us get internet or if it is just more political machination oiled with empty promises. I asked Mike Compton what he thought.
“If the additional funds generated by the repeal are collected and added to the internal structure
and not just added to help the profit margin, then yes it will help. There will be additional funds
because there will be a higher cost for the internet in the future because of the repeal. The only
way to know for sure what will happen is to take a wait and see attitude.”
I was hoping for something more definite, a silver bullet of sorts. But it’s much too soon. So like a lot of us, Mike remains dubious but with the slightest gossamer of hope.
“Personally, I don’t like the repeal of net neutrality. I liked the way things were set up. If the
additional funds get used to install more infrastructure so more people in Dexter Township get
access to the internet, then I will change my mind and say it was a good thing. I’m just not going
to hold my breath waiting for this to happen.”
Mike and the rural areas around Dexter may get some help from Washington.
President Trump recently signed an executive order making it easier for the private sector to locate broadband infrastructure on federal land and buildings, part of the push to expand high-speed internet in rural America. The memorandum directs the U.S. Department of the Interior to encourage rural broadband development by increasing access to towers managed by the department.
Closer to home, Michigan’s U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has authored a bipartisan Farm Bill that in addition to strengthening Michigan agriculture will provide finances for rural development including broadband internet expansion.
“If we want to truly expand, create jobs all over Michigan, and the quality of life that we want in small towns as well as big cities, you have to have high speed internet,” she said.
Senator Stabenow echoes Trustee Compton’s concerns regarding the quality of rural internet. She says, “I mean this is really jobs, quality of life, economic development for all the small towns and rural communities all over Michigan and it’s one of the, if not the biggest jobs bill we’ll be working on this year.”
In the past, Farm Bills have been passed with bipartisan support and Stabenow says, “Even with all the partisanship and division, I’m very hopeful that we can do the same thing this time.”
Senator Stabenow is planning to present the 2018 Farm Bill sometime this spring.