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Bringing broadband to Detroit

D. Alexander Bullock

D. Alexander Bullock

By D. Alexander Bullock

In Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech he told the world “100 years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” It has been more than five decades since that dramatic speech and we still see evidence that for many minorities, there is an island of poverty among an ocean of prosperity and wealth.

Detroit is a city that is very familiar with poverty, especially in its low-income and minority communities.   Among other financial ills, the city is suffering from a rapidly shrinking tax base as people flee the city to go to other cities where more job opportunities are present.
But Detroit has an opportunity to turn its situation around by embracing technology and re-inventing itself as the “Technology Hub of the Midwest.”

From biotech to energy to auto manufacturing, the future of our country will depend on broadband and Detroit needs to position itself as the place where technology meets the future economy.   Like the railroads of the past did for building wealth in cities across the country, robust broadband infrastructure can be that platform to help cities emerge as the champions of commerce and industry.
The fact is, broadband is the game changer that can not only build new industries, but can create solutions for many problems that our communities face.  Access to broadband can be a lifeline for millions trying to scrape their way out of poverty.  As day-to-day activities transition more and more toward functioning on broadband networks, it is critical this infrastructure investment in broadband technologies is continuously updated — particularly in low-income and minority communities.  If investment ceases or even slows down, Detroit and its people will be left behind.

Unfortunately, current outdated laws in Michigan and across the country require telecommunications companies to divert investment dollars away from state-of-the-art broadband investment and instead, put those dollars toward archaic analog landline technologies that the public is migrating away from. As a result of these rules, our nation has seen at least $81 billion of investment wasted by investment being put in technology that rapidly ends up as useless, stranded investment almost as soon as it is put in the ground.  This simply makes no sense — especially when these wasted dollars could be used to bring hi-tech broadband investment to Detroit communities and close the digital chasm that plagues the poor.

Broadband technology brings unlimited potential to people living in Detroit.  Not only can it be a renaissance for commerce and the key to turning this city around, it can also provide tremendous benefits to regular citizens throughout the city.  Broadband can allow a single mother to get an education online after she puts her children to bed.  It can provide healthcare to a diabetic shut-in by giving him the ability to download his blood sugar, send the data to his physician and make necessary adjustments to his dosage.  It can be a lifeline to an unemployed man or woman who now has the opportunity to create his or her own gainful employment by starting a business online — and hiring others in the community as that company grows.  These are only a few areas where broadband can change the dynamics in Detroit communities to provide opportunity for anyone who wants to seize it.  If we can just get the state of the art network investment out there, we as a community can do the rest.

Minister’s Against the Digital Divide’s mission is to see the digital divide become a relic of the past.  But more importantly, we need to embrace broadband technology as the great equalizer for our generation and generations to come.   We can’t construct state of the art broadband networks on our own, but we can provide incentives for private industry to make the investments in digital networks that will allow us to develop programs that promote agendas like digital literacy, STEM education and broadband adoption.  In order to do this, our nation has to transition from the copper “Ma Bell” network of the past to a national digital network of the future.
The state of Michigan has the opportunity now to start us down this path with Senate Bill 636, a bill that would remove current restrictions that require telecommunications providers to invest in 100-year-old technology instead of the latest state-of-the-art broadband technology that consumers so desperately want and need.

For our communities, this investment, coupled with education, are the two key elements that will build the bridge that will take people off of that island of poverty and give them the tools to be able to swim in the ocean of prosperity.   But the time is now for Michigan policymakers to act. Senate Bill 636 will allow us to transform Detroit, and our nation, into an all-digital world before our opportunities to close this chasm are lost.

David Alexander Bullock is president of MAAAD Michigan Chapter.

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