Update: HB 5670 was removed from the agenda prior to the committee hearing.
Representative Michele Hoitenga from Michigan is at it again. Last year as Chair of the House Communications and Technology Committee, she attempted to pass a bill to discourage her state’s self-reliant municipalities from improving local connectivity. Deja vu as her committee’s agenda for tomorrow, December 6th, picks up HB 5670, a bill sponsored by a different lawmakers and deceivingly titled the “Broadband Investment Act.”
Money is Good, Who Gets it Matters
The bill, sponsored by Mary Whiteford (R - Laketown Township) establishes a fund that will provide grants for broadband infrastructure deployment; the fund will be created by the state treasury. The bill doesn’t specify a dollar amount, which likely would vary from year to year. Recognizing that the state needs to make a financial investment in rural Internet infrastructure deployment is certainly a step forward, but the details in HB 5670 will end up doing more harm than good for people living beyond urban centers.
Municipalities and other government entities are specifically denied eligibility for grants. Not only does the restriction prevent local communities the ability to offer Internet access to the general public, but without an equal opportunity at state funding for infrastructure, municipalities and counties can’t pursue a public-private model. In short, by locking out local governments from state funding, the bill is harming both local citizens and the local ISPs that tend to offer services via publicly owned infrastructure.
10/1 Isn’t Broadband!
Michigan’s State Legislators are considering a bill that uses the term “broadband” to describe minimum service as 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. The FCC increased the standard to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps back in 2015 and it remains today. HB 5670 will siphon money from the state treasury to Frontier, AT&T, and any other telco that refuses to invest in anything better than DSL in rural Michigan. Fail. Needs improvement.
The vague language of the bill would also thrust satellite and mobile Internet access into the “served” parameters of HB 5670. These loose qualifications greatly reduce the number of households across the entire state that would qualify as underserved or unserved. Looks like lip service legislation as is.
No Dough for Planning
While building the infrastructure to deliver high-quality Internet access is the ultimate goal, smaller grants are best suited for planning. HB 5670 as written only allows funds to be used for infrastructure and, while no definite dollar amount has been attached to the bill yet, unless the grants are sizable enough for deployment purposes, they may only be helpful to a large Internet service provider with the resources to self-fund planning.
By changing the language of the bill to include planning grants, Michigan’s Legislators could help new entrants that want to serve rural areas. Let's get some choice in the Great Lake State!
Maintaining the Monopoly Mindset
Once again, a state bill focuses in on only providing funding for areas deemed “unserved” or “underserved.” While arguing that they need to first bring Internet access to regions that don’t have it, this approach prevents overbuilding, which encourages choice.
In this case, the bill is particularly problematic because of the vague eligibility language pretty much zeros out any “underserved” premises. Many of the “unserved” households would not qualify either, because satellite Internet access renders them as “served” due to, once again, poor legislative construction. The bill also requires "unserved" premises to obtain priority eligibility for the first five years. Does that mean NO funds will be disbursed for the first half-decade of the fund?
We’re sick of writing about crappy state bills like this. Do better.
Are You Sick, Too?
If you’re a Michigan resident and are also sick of this, you can express yourself to the members of the Communications and Technology Committee and let them know that you’d like to see a bill that provides funding for rural broadband, but that HB 5670 has too many flaws to pass as is. Feel free to point out where the problems are and let them know that you’re a voter, especially if your representative is on the committee.
Members of the Communications and Technology Committee:
Michele Hoitenga (R) Committee Chair, 102nd District
Beth Griffin (R) Majority Vice-Chair, 66th District
Gary Glenn (R) 98th District
Jim Runestad (R) 44th District
Jason Sheppard (R) 56th District
Jim Tedder (R) 43rd District
James Lower (R) 70th District
Phil Phelps (D) Minority Vice-Chair, 49th District
Kevin Hertel (D) 18th District
Jewell Jones (D) 11th District
Donna Lasinski (D) 52nd District