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Michigan to Receive $250M for Broadband Expansion Work

The federal funding is expected to connect 67,857 households and businesses to high-speed Internet, covering 23 percent of locations in the state without access to adequate service, according to officials.

Closeup of blue Ethernet cables plugged into a device.
(TNS) — Michigan will receive $250.6 million in federal funding for broadband projects that the state estimates will connect 67,857 households and businesses to high-speed Internet, covering 23% of locations in the state without access to adequate service, officials said.

The funding was among $435 million announced Thursday toward affordable high-speed broadband from President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan, adopted last year, through its Capital Projects Fund at the Treasury Department. The amount of funding is based on a formula that considers a state's population overall, as well as subsets of the population that are either rural or 150% of the poverty line or below, officials said.

Recent legislation passed under the Biden administration has "raised the bar, correctly, to not just closing the digital divide in libraries or even in school buildings, but for every business and every home," said Michigan native Gene Sperling, a senior White House adviser and American Rescue Plan coordinator.

"Because as we saw so powerfully during the pandemic, that's required for both the students and the parents, not just for convenience, not just for efficiency, but basic economic and educational opportunity."

The White House said that Michigan's award will fund the state's Realizing Opportunity with Broadband Infrastructure Networks (ROBIN) program, which is a competitive grant program aimed at providing funding to extend broadband infrastructure and service to locations currently lacking access to speeds of at least 100/20 megabits per second (Mbps). The federal funding is meant to pay for the hard infrastructure for physically connecting homes to high-speed service, in most cases with fiber optic cable.

"The vision really is that high-speed Internet is infrastructure. It's about the future. It's about opportunity, whether you're operating your business or your farm, or your school or your hospital, or your mental health agency," Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D- Lansing, said on a White House call. "Whatever it is that you're doing, high-speed Internet is not some frill. It's a part of being able to move forward and be successful and have opportunity."

The plan that Michigan officials submitted to the Treasury Department and approved Thursday represents 100% of the state's total allocation under the Capital Projects Fund, said Joseph Wender, fund director at Treasury.

"Our goal with the Capital Projects Fund is to make sure not only that families are connected to the Internet, but that their connection is affordable," U.S. Treasury Chief Recovery Officer Jacob Leibenluft told reporters.

To that end, Leibenluft said that his department requires that all participating service providers take part in the Federal Communications Commission's affordable connectivity program, which provides a discount of up to $30 per month to qualifying households. Experts have estimated that nearly 40% of U.S. households are eligible for the program, which roughly 493,000 households in Michigan have already signed up for, according to the White House.

Coupled with the announcement earlier this year that the Biden administration secured commitments from 20 leading Internet service providers to offer eligible households high-speed Internet plans for no more than $30 per month, this means that most qualifying households will receive Internet access for free or close to it, officials said.

"In the richest most productive country in the world, it's obviously unacceptable to see people that I represent ... especially in rural parts of our communities, to have to pull into a McDonald's parking lot to try to get their Wi-Fi to do something as simple as sending in a job application or just to pay their bills online," Rep. Dan Kildee, D- Flint Township, said. "Access to reliable, fast Internet is important to every aspect of modern life."

©2022 The Detroit News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.