The Sun Times News: Expanding Broadband in Rural Michigan
In the 21st century, high-speed internet access is increasingly tied to economic opportunity and enhanced quality of life. It ensures Americans are connected and can compete in the global economy.
Yet for many rural communities here in Michigan, access to reliable and affordable broadband internet, and the benefits it offers, remains a challenge.
According to one estimate, more than half a million people in Michigan lack a broadband provider in their area. Across the country, it climbs to roughly 23 million people. Whether at home, school, or work, a good-sized portion of our state and nation’s population is missing out because high speed internet infrastructure does not reach them.
The gap in broadband availability, referred to as the digital divide, is a well-known issue to many underserved areas in the 7th District with limited or no broadband at all.
I hosted Commissioner Brendan Carr of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—the agency tasked with promoting our telecommunications infrastructure—in Michigan earlier this year to hear from our community leaders.
The discussion was a familiar one: Broadband is critical for education, health care, economic development and many more aspects of day-to-day life.
Broadband gives students new online learning opportunities at their fingertips. It advances telemedicine and allows patients to interact remotely with a doctor or specialist. And it helps attract new employers and gives small businesses better tools to grow and reach new customers.
As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, we are leading a bipartisan effort in Congress to remove barriers to broadband deployment, incentivize private sector innovation, and direct federal funding to underserved areas.
Earlier this year, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the RAY BAUM’S Act, which reauthorizes the FCC for the first time in nearly three decades. President Trump signed it into law in March.
The bipartisan legislation includes a number of targeted solutions to spur reliable broadband buildout, including improving broadband mapping capabilities to identify areas where federal resources are needed the most. Additional provisions in the bill will help speed up the application process for broadband infrastructure and save money by installing broadband conduits during highway construction, eliminating the need to dig up existing roads later.
Building on bipartisan work, the Energy and Commerce Committee recently passed the ACCESS BROADBAND Act and the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act. These measures would streamline the process of applying for federal grants and help facilitate broadband deployment in farming communities.
While private investment is essential to building internet infrastructure, Congress has also devoted significant funding to support broadband expansion, including new loan and grant programs.
There is no quick fix to close the digital divide, but each of these efforts are important steps that represent a bipartisan commitment to get the job done.
As our economy becomes more internet-driven, the ability to pursue opportunity often hinges on improved connectivity. Expanding broadband access will help ensure those of us in rural communities won’t get left behind.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg represents Michigan’s 7th Congressional District and is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Rural Broadband Caucus. This op-ed originally appeared in the August 29 edition of The Sun Times News.