Column: What could better Internet access mean for Michigan's recovery?
More than 90 percent of Michigan residents have access to high-speed Internet service at home, but about a third don’t subscribe because it’s either too expensive or they don’t think they need it, a new survey shows.
Officials say the results have broad implications for policymakers and Internet providers planning for the future needs of their customers, as well as for the state’s economy.
“This is a benchmarking report,” said Phillip Brown, director of governmental affairs for Connected Nation, the parent organization of Connect Michigan. “The broadband needs of tomorrow are something we need to plan for.”
Connect Michigan, a nonprofit organization, works with the Public Service Commission and Internet providers in the state to identify broadband service gaps, and researches issues related to broadband use by businesses and residents.
For you techies out there, Connect Michigan defines broadband as Internet service with advertised download speeds of at least 768 kilobits per second and upload speeds of at least 200 kilobits per second.
But the group’s survey shows that there are quite of few of us who wouldn’t know a kilobit from a drill bit.
More than 1.3 million Michigan adults don’t even own a computer, let alone subscribe to broadband Internet service.
The survey also found that 127,100 Michigan households, about 3 percent of all households in the state, do not have access to broadband.
Eight percent of those who use the Internet from home access it through glacially slow dial-up service.
Michigan’s percentage of residents who subscribe to broadband matches the national rate of 67 percent.
But boosting that rate could give Michigan an edge as it rebuilds an economy ravaged by a decade-long recession.
Having broadband service at home gives people greater access to educational, training and job-searching opportunities.
For companies that embrace telecommuting, broadband allows more people to work at home, cutting gasoline use and easing traffic congestion.
Nearly half of those surveyed who are unemployed because of a disability said they would be somewhat likely or very likely to work from home if they were allowed to telecommute.
Overall, 17 percent of those surveyed said they telecommute. Another 27 percent said they would work from home using broadband if allowed to by employers.
“We know there is an economic benefit to residential broadband use,” Brown said.
Broadband isn’t cheap, but the average monthly cost of $43.49 in Michigan is just slightly above the national monthly average of $41.18.
A bigger impediment to increasing broadband usage in Michigan may be that many don’t think they need it. Nearly half of those surveyed who don’t subscribe to high-speed Internet service say they don’t need it or don’t understand the benefits.
While the study made no recommendations on how to boost broadband use in Michigan, the survey results show that cutting the cost and educating people on the benefits of high-speed Internet could increase its use.
“Broadband adoption is for us as important as availability,” Brown said. “If it’s not used, the non-adopter has no access to the benefits.”
Editor's note: The explanation of how high-speed Internet is measured has been corrected.
Email Rick Haglund at firstname.lastname@example.org.