Michigan pushes broadband
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Dec 04, 2001
The Michigan Senate introduced legislation last week to speed up Internet
broadband development and access throughout the state as a way to spur economic
growth and address the digital divide.
S.B. 880 and S.B. 881, championed by Gov. John Engler, grew out of a
Michigan Economic Development Corporation report in May that said many regions
lack the adequate backbone to carry high-speed voice, video and data traffic.
The report also said unregulated infrastructure fiber-optic cable and
advanced switching capabilities was being installed with little or no
knowledge by government officials.
According to that report, called LinkMichigan (linkmichigan.michigan.org), complaints have been growing among citizens
and businesses regarding high-speed Internet service. By accelerating deployment,
state officials said more than 500,000 jobs would be created and the gross
state product would increase by $440 billion over the next decade.
According to a letter from Engler posted on the Michigan portal (www.michigan.gov), fewer than one in 20 residents has access to a high-speed
connection and the state is ranked 24th in the nation in the growth of broadband
lines. Engler is urging citizens to write their state legislators in support
of the bills and provides direct e-mail links to specific legislators through
The state's plan, embodied in the bills, would create a state oversight
authority to levy fees for access to and use of public rights-of-way within
a municipality to provide telecommunications services. The plan also calls
for creating a state financing authority to help fund deployment in underserved
Susan Shafer, a spokeswoman for the governor, said such an oversight
authority would "level the playing field." Currently, she said depending
on the region or municipality, fees are uneven and high and frequently discourage
"Broadband has moved from a luxury to a necessity," she said.
But Scott Stevenson, president of the Telecommunications Association
of Michigan (www.telecommich.org), a state-based trade organization representing
36 member telephone companies and another 120 affiliated members, said the
bills would create more red tape and impose a $70 million tax. The current
state of broadband deployment is "pretty good," he said, adding that government
should stay out of it.
"We obviously think the issue of broadband deployment in Michigan is
an important public policy issue, and that's where the agreement with the
government ends," he said. "The ultimate question is, How will [these bills]
improve broadband deployment?"
Stevenson said there are ways that government can help industry accelerate
deployment without creating additional bureaucracy, such as ending excessive
local government regulations and excessive local fees for rights-of-way,
and providing a broadband tax credit.
The bills, he said, don't address those needs. "I personally don't see
these bills going anywhere this year," he said.