As local governments wrestle with the question of how to spend their share of American Rescue Plan Act money from Washington, some are earmarking it to improve broadband access and affordability for their residents.\u00a0 Their officials say spending part of Michigan\u2019s federal aid on high-speed broadband is a wise use of the money since lack of access hampers education, health services and the local economy.\u00a0 In total, over $3.7 billion has been set aside for Michigan metropolitan cities and counties, and $644 million has been set aside for local townships and villages, according to the state Treasury Department.\u00a0 The latest installment for local governments, more than $319 million, was allocated earlier this month. \u201cBroadband is a utility,\u201d said Tom Springer, a trustee in Park Township, St. Joseph County. \u201cIt\u2019s just like water. It\u2019s like sewer. It\u2019s like electric. And we need it to live our lives.\u201d\u00a0 Many Park Township residents were hit hard at the onset of the pandemic because of difficulty accessing the internet, according to Springer. Some had to leave their homes to find a connection.\u00a0 \u201cLast year during the pandemic, the kids were taking online school, but so many of them didn\u2019t have access to broadband that they couldn\u2019t do it,\u201d Springer said.\u00a0 \u201cThey couldn\u2019t get online and do their work. So at night in the winter, the parents would drive to the parking lot of the school, and the school \u2014 their IT person \u2014 made sure to turn up their broadband transmitter so parents could sit with their kids out in the parking lot with their cars running to do their homework,\u201d he said. Announcing the latest distribution of federal aid, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer identified broadband for \u201cunderserved communities\u201d as a priority, along with improving roads and bridges, replacing water lines made of lead, dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and raising pay for essential workers.\u00a0 Parts of the state are \u201cdigital deserts,\u201d said Judy Allen, the director of legislative affairs at the Michigan Townships Association.\u00a0 \u201cWe have townships that have no access to broadband, but we have others that have the access but may not be able to afford it,\u201d Allen said. The issue, Springer said, is that getting access to broadband is expensive. Park Township plans to use its total federal grant of more than $200,000 for broadband, according to Springer.\u00a0 To get broadband access for just its township hall, he said, would cost $84,000.\u00a0 \u201cThat\u2019s a third of the money that we just got through the American Rescue Plan,\u201d he said. \u201cOn top of that, that would not provide residential access to anybody in the town. It would just be for our township hall. That\u2019s just ridiculously expensive.\u201d\u00a0 Supervisor Ken Linn of Fabius Township in St. Joseph County said he\u2019d consider using some of the over $300,000 it\u2019s receiving for broadband, but isn\u2019t sure there\u2019d be enough left for other priorities.\u00a0 He said the township needs a new fire truck and an upgrade to technology in its township hall. Many easily accessible roads are already covered by a fiber network, according to Linn, who described the network as the \u201cgold standard\u201d for internet access. Where additional broadband is needed, he said, is on the roads alongside many of Fabius Township\u2019s lakes.\u00a0 \u201cYou either got it (broadband) really good or you got nothing,\u201d Linn said.\u00a0 To extend Fabius Township\u2019s broadband reach a mile, Linn said, would cost about $50,000, but added that he\u2019s not sure exactly where new networks should be placed.\u00a0 \u201cIt\u2019s hard to choose where to go because the money runs out so quick,\u201d he said. If money were not a concern, Linn said the township would \u201cdefinitely\u201d upgrade its broadband infrastructure.\u00a0 \u00a0When it comes to addressing broadband availability problems, Springer said it\u2019s tough to do so at a local level and he would rather see it start at a county or state level.\u00a0 \u201cI feel like we\u2019re being left to figure it out on our own,\u201d Springer said.\u00a0 Federal funds to the township help, he said, but structure and organization as to how to use them have proven to be equally important.\u00a0 Springer said one way his township could have used COVID-19-relief funds was to pay for broadband service, reducing residents\u2019 own internet bills. But because the township didn\u2019t have widespread access to broadband, he continued, it couldn\u2019t do so.\u00a0 \u201cThat\u2019s just another example of how people without broadband are overlooked,\u201d he said. \u201cWe had money in the federal program to help pay your internet bill, but that does nothing for areas that don\u2019t have it to start with.\u201d\u00a0 Townships can use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for COVID-19-related expenditures, premium pay for essential workers, to cover revenue loss and investment in infrastructure, among other purposes.\u00a0 AARP State Director Paula Cunningham said public policy is the place to start to fix the problem of broadband in rural Michigan.\u00a0 \u201cIf you really want to change things, you\u2019ve got to change policy,\u201d Cunningham said. \u201cNot just social policy, but you also have to change the law.\u201d\u00a0 Cunningham said the state\u2019s AARP launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which pulls from $3.2 billion of federal funds to help residents, especially Detroiters, reduce their internet costs by $50 a month.\u00a0 Whitmer announced in June the creation of a High-Speed Internet Office to go along with the Connecting Michigan Task Force, announced in 2020, to secure accessible broadband for residents across the state.\u00a0 Since those announcements, Whitmer said the task force and office have helped provide broadband access to more than 18,000 homes and businesses.