The jungle book

New state infrastructure spending aimed at increasing broadband connectivity

As part of the $4.8 billion in additional infrastructure spending recently passed by the state, funding has been allocated to better provide economic opportunity, which includes additional funding for internet infrastructure.

There will be a new statewide broadband grant program in Michigan, which has $250.6 million in federal funding allocated to provide competitive broadband infrastructure grants for areas not served. Up to 5% of this funding would be needed to operate the Michigan high-speed internet office, while the rest would be available without any additional state resources.

Carl Osentoski, executive director of the Huron County Economic Development Corporation, said he recently attended a webinar on the program and it has yet to be decided how those grants will be distributed.

“One of the things the program is working on is mapping where there’s internet infrastructure across the state, which they’re working on this summer,” Osentoski said. “In addition, there is additional federal funding from the (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021), which begins to be released this summer and extends through the rest of the year.”

He further added that the program is aimed at private companies that are already rolling out new infrastructure programs and continuing construction.

There have been many efforts to increase broadband internet connectivity in the Upper Thumb since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan, with state Rep. Phil Green presenting a proposal to eliminate sales taxes for broadband projects to reduce development costs that were ultimately opposed, the Huron County Broadband Committee is set up to identify areas of the county that would benefit most from increased connectivity.

Michigan representatives in Congress also introduced the Broadening Online Opportunities through Simple Technologies Act in February 2021, which would provide a consumer tax credit of up to $300 to supplement the purchase of a mobile internet hotspot. That proposal has since been in the House Ways and Means Committee, with no further movement since.

In late 2021, Thumb Electric Co-operative purchased Frankenmuth-based Air Advantage to expand into providing internet services throughout Thumb and had received over $51 million from the United States Department of Agriculture for help improve fiber optic infrastructure.

Agri-Valley Services is also working to install new infrastructure in Huron County communities.

Osentoski noted that while driving along M-19 last fall, he saw companies blocking the road so they could install fiber optic lines, so that’s being worked on and the new funding can extend it so that everyone has broadband capabilities.

Osentoski is optimistic that the Upper Thumb could see funds coming in, not just for broadband expansion, but also for roads and bridges.

“They’ve worked hard to build the infrastructure and have a clear and solid history of meeting obligations,” Osentoski noted, with their aggressive strategies helping them secure additional funds when needed.

Fiber optic construction can also be affected by supply chain issues as all equipment must be ordered with delays and price increases affecting these projects. Osentoski hopes such problems are non-existent, but it’s hard to say at the moment.

“We are still monitoring these federal and state funds and encouraging the governor and legislature to focus on rural areas,” Osentoski said. “So if there’s an opportunity to help the thumb area, we’ll jump on it ASAP.”