You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 5:54 a.m.

What could better Internet access mean for Michigan's recovery?

By Rick Haglund

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.

The study by the Michigan Public Service Commission and Connect Michigan is the first to assess how people use the Internet in the state.

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



Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 1:18 a.m.

The internet could be used to revolutionize education at a low cost. Advanced classes could be taught over wide districts so teachers could be more specialized and knowledgeable. It could help shift us out of our recession and help create a new generation of college graduates.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 11:45 p.m.

Having a separate company or municipal government build a dark fiber-to-the-home network and lease fibers to competing service providers who'd plug their gear into it and light it up seems like the most efficient way to go. Much like how Ford doesn't build roads. And you'd only tear up the streets 1 time. Heck, there's already quite a bit of fiber and conduit in the ground from when the stoplight network was rebuilt several years ago. Maybe a certain someone would like to resurrect Msen?

David Fry

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 3:57 p.m.

When I was starting my Internet e-commerce business in Ann Arbor, the MEDC would come visit me annually, starting in the mid 90s, asking what they could do to foster more high-tech development in the state. One of the things I said every time was, "make high-speed Internet usage cheaper and more common, especially in the most populated areas." Having more people using the Internet as part of their daily lives will lead to more high-tech entrepreneurs locally and will produce a workforce more appropriate for filling the high-paying jobs they'll create. I asked for a tax rebate for families to buy a home computer and pay for broadband access. I agree that one of the problems is that people don't see the need for themselves. But the sad truth is that if they aren't feeling the need to use the 'Net for communication, education, exploration, entertainment, shopping, and overall convenience, then they are likely to remain underemployed in the future. Put bluntly, make yourself part of the future or you will remain part of the past.

Ron Granger

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

Do those monthly cost figures include discounts as a result of coercive bundling? You know - where it is $60+/month unless you buy cable TV with it. And how about limited time offers? Again, it's $25 a month for 6 months, and then the price spikes. Those are not "real" prices.

Ron Granger

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 3:15 p.m.

@pvitaly: "Ron, Asia is a pretty large continent. Would you say that the entire continent has more coverage than Michigan, or even the US? Is it even possible to find out what China's coverage is? As for Japan, it is a very small country with a lot of high rises. It's a lot easier to provide internet access to a high rise with 10,000 people than it is to Joe the farmer in the UP who has 100 acres of land and 1 tiny house." Certainly S. Korea and Japan. Your example of "Joe the farmer" on 100 acres of land is a complete non-starte because no city in Michigan has fast or cheap internet coverage. Even dense tech-hubs like Ann Arbor. Serving rural communities is a challenge. But the US, and Michigan, do poorly even in their dense cities. That's mostly because large corporations monopolize and control the market, while their lobbyists control our government. The phone companies were awarded billions - some say over $200 billion - to build out our high speed internet infrastructure. They pocketed it as profit.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 2:46 p.m.

Better internet access would mean that many of us who want to work from home at least part of the time, or want to when weather is inclement, or when we have family issues, or we simply aren't needed in the office for in-person meetings that day, could do that. We could save gas and auto maintenance, have lower car exhaust pollution, less wear and tear on our business attire, and companies could save space and resources too. In a hurting economy, this just hurts more. We can see the bright lights of Ann Arbor from our home at night, just 10 minutes from downtown, but are literally the last on the line for DSL on our street - and it is barely acceptable DSL with loads of excuses as to why. No cable service is available; satellite doesn't cut it and is too expensive. How can this be so in a supposedly tech-savvy city like Ann Arbor? Or is the tech-savvy part meant only for those within the city limits? Try to sell your house to anyone when they find out you don't have reliable high speed internet these days. Maybe issues like this are keeping companies away. I find it hard to believe we are this far behind at this late date. I wouldn't have bought this house in the 90's if I knew this issue would be so big and still relatively unresolved today.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

Rob Granger is 100% accurate in the information he provides. But it did not seem that important back when Comcast was given the local monopoly - few people had computers, let alone the vast Internet we have today. He's also right about the U.S. lagging overall compared to other countries (including Asia and much of Europe). The U.S. ranks 8th in the world in terms of broadband quality, coverage and use. EIGTH! And we're talking about holding on to our economic place in the world. Not gonna happen unless people demand of companies and our government that a big improvement is forthcoming. This is scandalous and must be changed. Having a computer and broadband can be life changing. I didn't get a computer until 12 years ago when I was already in my 50s. Today: I regularly email like "everyone" but I also regularly use Skype to talk with my daughter and her husband while we can see each other live on this free "video phone" internet service. I also post videos I've made of "Ann Arbor activities" on YouTube so she can see what's going on in her hometown. I do shopping and banking and even get my paycheck stubs over the Internet. It took a few years but I am now a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) as a restorer of old photos. My computer w/ 24-inch screen now provides almost complete "television service" with most of my favorite programs. Most of the news I get is from internet news (like Not mentioned is that the remaining 1/3rd without computers and internet need tutors and some kind of financial assistance to join this all important new "class" of Americans. This is blocked because there exists only three types of operating systems and they compete for customers. Favoring one of them with public teaching and financial assistance would be improper unless those applying for assistance could be informed about them and make the choice for themselves.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 1:59 p.m.

I wish my bill were only $43 and some change. The unholy monopoly that is Comcast irks me to no end.

Ron Granger

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

Your article appears to be missing some important information. Previously, cable franchises were negotiated and set by the cities. That gave communities like Ann Arbor some leverage in pricing, quality, coverage, etc. Then Granholm and the legislature, pushed by Comcast and other lobbyists, saw an opportunity to take that over and make a buck. They usurped local authority, and now those agreements are negoiated in lansing. Worse, they did not give the Michigan Public Service commission any authority or mandate to investigate and resolve consumer complaints. Previously, you could complain to your Ann Arbor cable authority. Now you have *no recourse*. That is what Granholm, and the Comcast lobbyists, gave us. It hurt consumers. Prices increased. Competition decreased. Service declined. Comcast interfered with customer traffic and then denied it. In any case, our choices are few and far between in Ann Arbor, and especially elsewhere. And the city of Ann Arbor did a horrendous job letting us be strung along in that "free wireless washtenaw" boondoggle with 20/20 Communications, and their fantasy promises and hype. There were a lot of startup companies who could have potentially delivered on that, but Ann Arbor locked them out of the market with a six year monopoly. Why is our internet access so much worse than Asia?


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

Ron, Asia is a pretty large continent. Would you say that the entire continent has more coverage than Michigan, or even the US? Is it even possible to find out what China's coverage is? As for Japan, it is a very small country with a lot of high rises. It's a lot easier to provide internet access to a high rise with 10,000 people than it is to Joe the farmer in the UP who has 100 acres of land and 1 tiny house.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

Mr Haglund - Given the lack of broadband in most of the UP and many areas on the interior of the northern lower peninsula, I find the 3 percent number interesting. I know many farmers choose to use satellite based services for broadband and pay way more than $43 a month for it. For farmers, accurate information is critical for planting, harvesting and hedging. I suspect that if your statistics looked at the percentage of the state covered by broadband we would get an AT&T type map and the statistic that AT&T covers 97% of the people, not 97% of the country. But then we would have a very different story, wouldn't we?