U.S. Representative Brenda L. Lawrence (MI-14) and FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks virtually hosted, “Connecting Michigan: From Internet Inequality to Digital Equity” which explored how the digital divide has exacerbated already existing inequities throughout Michigan. The panelists discuss how these inequalities impact both cities and rural areas of Michigan, how these areas mirror the same struggles across the county and what solutions need to be taken.

Panelists included:

  • U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin (MI-08),
  • Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II,
  • Joshua Edmonds, City of Detroit,
  • Amina Fazlullah, Common Sense Media, and
  • Angela Siefer, National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

The conversation between these esteemed panelist dove into the details of this issue right off the bat, identifying the multifaceted issues surrounding digital inclusion during their introduction statements:

You break it down in three ways. We have a problem of access. We have folks in our district who live in such a rural area there is no signal . . . The issue that is coming down the pike is bandwidth. We have kids on the internet doing a few hours a day and what if we need to continue with this . . . I don’t think a lot of kids would have the bandwidth to do that especially multiple kids in the home . . . We are struggling with that and then devices. It is another thing to have the device to let you interact with school or work and we know the school districts are struggling to get the devices to the kids who need them most.”
U.S. Representative Elissa Slotki

I want to put numbers around what congresswoman Slotkin shared with children not having internet enabled devices in their homes . . . there are about 600,000 children in the state of Michigan who do not have access to an internet enabled  device in their homes, 600,000. And the number of kids who don’t have sufficient internet access in the housing able to stream more than one video at a time is about 60,000. Those are pretty staggering numbers.
Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II

After identifying the issue and populations of people affected, the panelists discuss solutions for Michigan and the rest of the country. Josh Edmonds’ “ask” was spot on:

We are not data driven and data informed enough. I will say, if I go down my list of ‘asks’: (One) to the state of Michigan, let’s prioritizes and gets the broadband office up and running. If the Digital Equity Act was to pass today, we couldn’t get funding because the state broadband offices need to be the intermediary to allocate funding. (Two) the FCC, let’s talk about really tackling this asymmetrical broadband, we need to prioritize the consumers. (Three) Congress, we have a lot of investment with COVID-19. If you are talking about any investment around broadband it would be great to talk about matching so we don’t exhaust local resources for you to come in after”

Joshua Edmonds, City of Detroit

Which was passionately backed by other panelist:

We need to have good data as Josh mentioned. Data drive enthusiasm from policy makers and partners. We can develop partners in industry and on the ground. 

Amina Fazlullah, Common Sense Media

If I could replicate Josh and put him in every state, I would because that is where the real work is occurring. But, what would all of those Joshes need? They need help from the state and federal government.

Angela Siefer, NDIA