Opinion: Internet access drives economy and jobs

Mat Dunaskiss
Dunaskiss writes: "Even as tech start-ups fill the Detroit cityscape, four in 10 Detroit residents do not have access to reliable broadband."

The internet has come a long way from the dial-up chirps and pixilation that dot our earliest memories of the technology. With time and ingenuity, Internet breakthroughs continue to alter how we think about and interact with the world – signaling its ubiquity and viability as a long-term economic driver.

For Michigan, a state still wading through a post-recession revitalization, the Internet provides a promising future. Congress can help ensure that reality by protecting a free and open Internet that fosters economic growth and job creation.

Some members of Congress, however, are balking at this responsibility and setting their sights instead on a partisan half-measure. In May, the U.S. Senate pushed forward a resolution under the Congressional Review Act that would undo the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to reverse Title II utility-style regulations on the Internet.

The CRA, a rarely used political maneuver and a partisan workaround, is a far cry from the legislative action the internet and American people deserve. By taking a backward approach, the CRA wraps the internet in red tape, threatening economic growth and job creation.

As a former chair of the Committee on Technology & Energy in the Michigan Senate, I can attest to the negative impact that would be felt hard here in Michigan, where we are still recovering from the recession and depend on the internet and tech development as a viable solution. Michigan is blessed with distinguished research universities, a bevy of industrious workers, a long history of innovation and advanced manufacturing that make it well-positioned to take advantage of the internet-fostered growth and opportunity. Within the state, Michigan stalwart Ford is leading the charge with autonomous vehicles, while cities across the Great Lakes state play host to a boon in internet and tech start-ups.

In 2017, Michigan’s technology industry contributed $34.7 billion to the state’s economy and net tech employees accounted for 8.7 percent of the state’s workforce. Michigan, which added more than 13,000 jobs in the tech industry last year, ranked third in the nation in tech job growth, behind California and Texas.

Michigan’s continued success building and sustaining its new tech ecosystem, however, is dependent on an effectively-governed internet – one that fosters innovation and continued prosperity. It is therefore imperative that Congress seize the opportunity created by the FCC’s December repeal of restrictive Depression-era Title II regulations to pursue a substantive, bipartisan bill that establishes 21st century rules for a 21st century internet.

A study by Phoenix Center, confirms what I saw when I served in the Michigan Legislature, namely that, when the internet was classified under Title II regulations, investments in broadband were $50 billion dollars less annually than they would have been without the Title II reclassification.

Those lost investments are not only a missed opportunity for Michigan businesses and workers involved in the broadband market but also move Michigan further from the goal of connecting all its residents to reliable broadband.

Even as tech start-ups fill the Detroit cityscape, four in 10 Detroit residents do not have access to reliable broadband. The view for the rest of the state is similarly bleak, with the FCC estimating 12 percent of Michiganians do not have broadband that meets the minimum acceptable threshold. In Michigan’s rural areas, that number is as high as 37 percent.

While Michigan has already made inroads toward expanding access to broadband, timely and widespread availability to broadband in all corners of the state is still jeopardized by hampered investments as a result of the Depression-era regulations.

Michiganians need federal legislation that protects the assets that have allowed the internet to thrive and creates a regulatory framework for economic growth and job creation.

Mat Dunaskiss is a former state senator from Michigan.