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Whitmer signs directive to promote better internet access

Thomas Park

Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive Monday that instructs state departments and agencies to develop plans to use federal recovery funds to improve broadband internet service in Michigan.

The directive says that includes strategies to reduce the cost and to expand access to high-speed internet to underserved areas of the state. It says the benefits would include business development, online learning, telemedicine, and simply connecting with family and friends.

The directive calls for coordinating work on water infrastructure, electric lines and building better broadband networks. Also, that areas of the state with the slowest internet speeds should be first in line for improvements.

In June, the governor created a Michigan High-Speed Internet office, stating Michigan could be missing out on two and a half billion dollars in economic activity due to a digital divide.

The directive only tells executive branch agencies to come up with plans. Using federal dollars to put those plans into action will require an agreement between the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Whitmer has issued a series of directives in recent days related to how she’d like to deploy billions of dollars in federal recovery funds. But the Democratic governor cannot put those plans into action without the approval of the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Republicans say Whitmer spurned GOP proposals to expand broadband access, including her veto of a bill to offer a tax break to providers that offer to provide service in difficult-to-reach areas.

“The Whitmer administration should be collaborating with the Legislature to expand internet service at all times – it shouldn’t take an executive directive to address it,” said Representative Beth Griffin. “But I am hopeful this signals the governor is truly serious about broadband expansion in all Michigan communities.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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