The following is a commentary from state Rep. Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) who represents Michigan’s 52nd House District. Rep. Lasinski can be reached by email at DonnaLasinski@house.mi.gov, or you may visit her website at RepLasinski.com.
In today’s tech-heavy world, it can be difficult to convince people that not all of Michigan has access to the internet. Unfortunately, for too many of us in Western and Northern Washtenaw County, we know all too well how true that is.
Throughout the state, 37 percent of Michiganders living in rural areas lack access to high-speed broadband internet. In Washtenaw County, more than 23,000 people are without access to this life-changing resource, preventing us from taking advantage of opportunities to learn, communicate and grow businesses.
High-speed broadband helps to connect communities to one another the world over, allowing them to share resources and innovate. Internet access is the key to allowing Michiganders to complete a range of undertakings — from everyday, mundane tasks like paying bills or simply checking in with friends and family, to more elaborate and innovative endeavors like launching businesses, building websites and earning skills through online classes.
High speed internet access allows entrepreneurs to develop their home-based businesses, helps students to complete their schoolwork at home and gives our seniors the freedom to comfortably age in place. Access to the worldwide web provides us the opportunity to communicate with our peers around the globe to discover groundbreaking and unique ideas that will help us live a better life and even move our state’s economy forward.
My House Democratic colleagues and I recognize how vital access to high-speed broadband is for families to live, work and succeed in the 21st century. That is why we unveiled our Building Opportunity for All plan. Every hardworking Michigander deserves the opportunity to define for themselves what success looks like, and in today’s economy you simply cannot achieve that success without access to the internet. Our plan will protect our freedom to utilize the internet by building the infrastructure communities need to connect with fellow Michiganders and the world, and in doing so, create good-paying jobs here at home.
Expanding broadband access for our state has been my personal mission since coming to the Legislature last year. One of the very first bills I introduced was House Bill 4162, which would allow townships to use special assessments to fund broadband and communications projects in areas that still lack high-speed internet. Townships already rely on these special assessment districts to provide other public services — it only makes sense to equip our communities with every possible tool they may need to compete in the 21st century. Unfortunately, HB 4162 has been sitting untouched in a House committee since its introduction more than a year ago.
In order to attract new businesses to our state and compete for jobs, we must have the infrastructure necessary to support companies that want to settle down in Michigan as well as entrepreneurs looking to get started. To do that, however, it is clear that Michigan needs innovative and robust solutions to eradicate these internet deserts once and for all. Only then can we build real opportunity for everyone, regardless of where they live.