Lt. Governor addresses internet accessibility in Lake County

Gilchrist: 'We need to check into affordability'

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist spoke about the importance of implementing fast and accessible internet services in Lake County. (Star photo/Shanna Avery)

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist spoke about the importance of implementing fast and accessible internet services in Lake County. (Star photo/Shanna Avery)

WEBBER TOWNSHIP — Several Lake County residents had an opportunity to meet Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist, who made an appearance in Lake County on Friday, June 18, at Webber Township Hall.

He was invited to speak by the Lake County Democratic Party.

"I am really glad to be here in Lake County. I've been talking to a lot of people up here. There is power and potential in community coming together, and it happens one conversation at a time, one text at a time and one visit at a time — it all matters — especially after the year we've gone through," he told those gathered.

After introducing himself, Gilchrist presented his main talking point, internet accessibility.

"I believe everyone in Lake County, and in Michigan, should be connected to the internet," he said, sharing how from a young age, computers became a passion of his, and helped develop career paths in his life. "The ideas that can be made possible and brought into the world - nothing enables ambition more than a really fast internet connection."

He further stated how 419,000 kids didn't have internet access during the pandemic when school buildings were shut down, and wondered how many had actual laptops or only had a phone to use, or had a slow connection.

"As a pandemic response, we looked into ways to light up more fiber. Finding ways to deliver internet to every home in Lake County is different than delivering internet to every home in Grand Rapids," he said, adding despite the challenges of trying to provide internet in rural communities, there is opportunity for creativity and innovation.

Gilchrist referred to internet access as an "anti-poverty engine" connecting people to health services, assisting people in looking for remote work, accessing benefits, etc. He said federal resources could help in internet availability.

"If people cannot afford internet, they cannot access it," he said "We need to check into affordability.”

The recently launched Michigan High Speed Internet office is working to address these specific issues and offers a network of professionals on the state level for local governments and internet advocates to correspond with, he further stated.

"Gretchen and I want to partner with you and be good partners to local leaders. I believe we have an opportunity to meet this moment, he said."

After concluding his talk, Gilchrist invited those gathered to ask questions or provide a comment. Webber Township Supervisor Ernie Wogatzke said his township is setting up a computer lab at the Webber Hall.

"We need broadband," he said. "We call our service 'high-speed dial up.' Our zoom meetings this past year were knocked off left and right. We are getting Larry Lewis to help us with fiber-optics."

Larry Lewis, who has been on the forefront locally for advocating internet accessibility the past few years, also offered a comment during the meeting.

"In this county, in all 16 townships, I have worked with every township supervisor toward this goal of getting high speed internet throughout the county. Working together is how you win. Internet is so important and will help every resident," he said.

During his time in Lake County, Gilchrist further addressed jumpstarting Michigan again and in moving forward, he believes it will take better wages, more access to safe childcare, including expanding pre-K for the earliest learners, and use federal resources to invest in the smallest businesses such as service businesses and restaurants.