Broadband Initiative Is Great Equalizer

May 20, 2002
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Medical sciences are fast becoming one new, integral part of the Michigan economy, a diversification currently excruciatingly apparent as automakers begin announcing labor cuts for the New Year. Yet as pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced it would build a world headquarters in Ann Arbor, it finds itself stymied by lack of Internet service — a very basic tool in its ability to function.

No one questions the statistical evidence of need: Michigan is dead last in the nation in investment per phone line; has 4 percent of the U.S. population but just 1.3 percent of the high-speed broadband phone lines; Michigan schools are 40th in K-12 schools with high-speed access and 37th in the nation in percentage of families and small businesses using high-speed lines.

The willy-nilly approach of wiring big-profit areas versus urban or rural areas by market giants is apparent to everyone, even as SBC Ameritech uses hot-spot public relations donations of computers to provide cover for its intended market approach. Not one inch of the Upper Peninsula has been wired for high-speed Internet service, or parts of the northern Lower Peninsula. There is no question that physicians and medical businesses are reliant on the ability to research and communicate via the Internet. Service is integral to every region of the state. Some current service providers claim broadband is available to 85 percent of the state market, but be advised, 85 percent of Michigan zip codes are serviced, according to Federal Communications Commission, not market area. The difference is quite apparent in the statistics reported in the above paragraph.

The Internet and all its applications is absolutely the greatest equalizer for businesses competing in a free market. Businesses located outside the University of Michigan campus, rural or urban areas should be of the highest concern to every Michigan legislative representative, whether or not Ameritech contributed to their campaign, or joined their chamber of commerce. Technical capability is the bottom line in recruitment and retention of business, and far more significant than yesterday’s bait of businesses tax abatements and “incentives.”

Gov. John Engler has already lost the battle for legislative action in 2001; the most significant problem was that he did not have a plan put together until the eleventh hour of this session, even as business and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation have been flagging the issue for at least two years.

One important portion of the Governor’s plan should follow in legislative rewrite in 2002: the concept of one fee, overriding individual municipal regulations and far-ranging charges. Business owners see enough of disparate regulations from one governmental unit to another in zoning, planning, water and sewer. Engler has noted that fees for any person of business to “rent” space on a DSL wire (for instance) ranges in Michigan from 0 to well more than $1.36 per linear foot. Engler notes some Ohio municipalities are already charging more than $2 per linear foot. The politics of municipal money needs to be put aside to capitalize on Michigan’s ability to provide competitive advantage to business, and easily beat traditionally competitive border states in business recruitment.

The ability of medical personnel, educators and business leaders obviously can not be left to current providers which have left Michigan dead last in ability to function.           

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