UPPER PENINSULA — According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 19 million Americans lack basic internet access. 14.5 of those people do not have access because they reside in rural or remote areas.
Reliable internet access at home is becoming more of a necessity in the United States; students use it for homework, employees to finish up work, unemployed people to find work, telehealth appointments, the list goes on.
So why are internet providers not expanding their networks to cover rural areas? For most, it is the cost. Congressman Jack Bergman says that he wants to change that thinking and get broadband internet access for the entirety of the Upper Peninsula.
“I live in one of those areas so I know what it’s like. I can tell people firsthand about what it’s like to have non-existent or very poor internet service. So it’s my responsibility to educate my colleagues,” explains Congressman Bergman.
On July 25th he introduced The Rural Broadband Connectivity Act of 2019. The bill provides a tax cut to internet service providers, encouraging them to spend the money on sending their signal to people who want to get connected.
“To incentivize them to put the structure into designated neighborhoods that are very sparsely populated but the people still need it,” Bergman adds, “Not government money going towards this but private-sector money.”
Northern Michigan University is offering a solution to limited internet access in the U.P. It’s called the Educational Access Network (EAN) and it’s continuously expanding to provide more areas of the U.P. with internet access at an affordable price.
“Northern felt that we could contribute, as technology leaders in the Upper Peninsula, we felt that we had an obligation to contribute to the solution,” says Eric Smith, Director of Broadcasting and Audio-Visual Services at Northern Michigan University.
EAN offers internet access for students in remote areas not covered by other internet providers.
“Preschool all the way up through adult learners, people, and grandparents who want to continue their education,” explains Smith.
In fact, EAN offers free online courses available for anyone to take. Taking one of these courses qualifies non-students to use EAN access.
“We have the largest educational broadband network operating in the nation right now. So it’s something that all yoopers can be proud of. We think that in rural areas, where it’s a challenge to get affordable broadband, that this is a way forward,” says Smith.
To check access availability or to sign up for the Educational Access Network you can visit the EAN website or call NMU at 888-458-8668.
Congressman Bergman says he will continue to garner support for his bill.
“It’s a collaborative effort, both democrats and republicans, working together. Now my job is to educate my colleagues on the priority of this and get them to sign on,” he adds.
To read The Rural Broadband Connectivity Act of 2019, click here.