Flint, MI—A new law could lead to greater access to broadband internet in Flint.

Passed in November 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, or simply BIL, represents the largest investment in America’s infrastructure in nearly a century. Also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the BIL will send $100 million to Michigan to expand access to broadband–internet that allows large amounts of data to be transmitted at high speed.

“Twenty-five percent of Flint families with children do not have broadband in the home,” said 7th Ward Councilwoman Allie Herkenroder, who ran on a platform that included expanding broadband access and affordability in Flint. 

On Jan. 27, Congressman Dan Kildee stopped at Flint’s Sovita Credit Union to view a fiber optic cable installation—a step toward greater broadband internet access in Flint.

“This really is the way the 21st Century economy works,” Kildee said. “For Sovita, their ability to provide reliable high speed services to their customers is determined by the technology they have available to them.”

While data from Connected Nation Michigan confirms over 99% of households in Genesee County have broadband capability—Herkenroder noted capability and affordability represent two different stumbling blocks for broadband access in Flint.

“We know that in our current society, not everybody has the expendable income for a $60-a-month internet bill,” she said, adding that even plans meant for residents in this position, can end up being too costly when COVID has forced school, medical appointments, and most communication online.

Kildee said he recognized there was a difference between availability and affordability when discussing broadband in Flint, but he also felt the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law works toward solving both understandings of “access.” 

“So there are two aspects of this,” Kildee said. “One is increasing the quality and speed of broadband internet access. And the more we can support that through public dollars, installation of whatever the technology might be—in this case, fiber optic cable, that reduces the cost generally, because that cost doesn’t have to be passed on to the customers if we do it as a part of our public investment.”

But, Kildee also noted a specific subsection of the BIL works to directly address affordability for low-income Michiganders.

“We included something called the Affordable Connectivity Benefit, which provides assistance to low income families to ensure they can afford internet access,” said Kildee, noting that about a quarter of Michigan residents are currently eligible for the benefit.

Herkenroder said she believes BIL broadband dollars will help fill the gaps in funding and creation of affordable broadband access in Flint, but she said there is still more work to be done from there.

“Because internet was so privatized—is so privatized—we still, as a community and as a society, look at it as though it is a luxury,” Herkenroder said. “But if we think about it, so many things are reliant on broadband.”

Herkenroder listed off internet-dependent devices she saw from where she was sitting—her phone, her laptop, her security system, a Google speaker.

“If we have the support in council … we start to shift to this mindset of broadband as a utility—just like heat, water, and electric,” she said. “This is a necessity for 21st Century living.”

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

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