by Kent Wood
Recently, House Bill 5099 was introduced by State Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R – Manton) that would have had immediate and potentially negative consequences for efforts in northern Michigan to grow a network of high speed internet service infrastructure.
HB 5099 as written would prohibit local units of government from providing qualified internet service. In Traverse City, this would have meant an immediate halt to discussions by Traverse City Light & Power electric utility to expand its existing fiber network to allow high speed internet services to residents and rate payers.
Citing a university study and reporting from free-market think tank the Mackinac Center, Rep. Hoitenga stated she introduced the bill out of concerns that local governments would be competing in an area where there is currently private business.
A number of businesses from Cadillac and Traverse City weighed in with concern about the legislation voicing frustration the high speed internet is a must-have for businesses to compete in the 21st century economy. The Chambers in each community also voiced concern that the legislation would be harmful policy for rural and small metropolitan areas in northern Michigan, where high speed internet advancement is slow and challenging because of low population densities. They argued the state should be looking to add solutions to the internet connectivity challenges in rural Michigan, not take options away.
To her credit, Rep. Hoitenga listened openly to the concerns and agreed to table her bill, which was scheduled for a hearing and potential vote in her House Communications and Technology committee on October 24th.
The bill was pulled from the committee agenda and the representative said she has no plans to move the bill in the future.