Despite some daring efforts to save the free and open internet, December’s vote to kill net neutrality went into effect on Monday. But one gubernatorial candidate in Michigan has a plan to get around the decision.

Without net neutrality, internet service providers (ISPs) are allowed to block, throttle or prioritize content as they wish, provided that they notify consumers and do not do so in a manner the Federal Trade Commission finds anti-competitive.

This hasn’t totally ended the fight, it just changed the arena. States have taken up the fight.

Washington, Oregon and Vermont have state statutes protecting net neutrality and another 32 states are considering such actions. 23 state attorneys general are suing the FCC to protect net neutrality. And then, there’s Michigan.

Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed is polling third in the democratic primary, behind embattled millionaire Shri Thanedar, who Grit Post previously reported has been accused of failing to pay his staff. But El-Sayed has outlined several dramatic initiatives that may change the primary landscape before Michigan votes in August. Among them, his plan to save the internet: Mi-Fi.

“Internet is no longer a luxury – it’s the paved road of the 21st century,” El-Sayed told Grit Post. “While MI-Fi would give us more leverage to protect net neutrality in Michigan, MI-Fi comes with several additional benefits. There are 1.2 million Michiganders who don’t have access to broadband. MI-Fi will expand access to affordable, high quality internet to all Michiganders.”

And because of that, Mi-Fi is more than just a response to Monday’s high-profile eulogies for the open internet. El-Sayed thinks it’s essential to Michigan’s future.

“By expanding access to affordable, high-quality internet for all, MI-FI will allow small businesses to flourish in areas that have been burdened by poor broadband service or no service at all. Students will also have the internet access they need to complete assignments and continue their studies at home.”

The El-Sayed campaign has reached out to various stakeholders, including and especially municipalities that offer local broadband successfully.

While Mi-Fi is designed with Michigan in mind, El-Sayed thinks the proposal could benefit other states as well, especially states with large rural areas underserved by traditional internet service providers.

El-Sayed’s take on how to save the internet is consistent with a wider gamut of progressive views that set him well to the left of Thanedar or establishment favorite Gretchen Whitmer. El-Sayed supports free college for families making under $150,000 per year and, more famously, he supports single-payer healthcare in Michigan. He calls the proposal Michicare.

If elected, the traditionally conservative Michigan legislature could pose a significant roadblock to a slate of exciting progressive programs El-Sayed envisions for Michigan. While it’s up to El-Sayed and his supporters to elect progressive candidates, he knows that winning over Republicans needs to be part of his implementation strategy.

“Michigan’s current GOP administration already recommended $1.5 [billion] be set aside for subsidies to ISP corporations — these funds would simply be leveraged to support public-public partnerships through MI-Fi,” he said. “For the GOP lawmakers that remain, we have to make a case that these policies are good for their constituents and there will be a political price to pay for opposing them.”

El-Sayed has just under two months to make his case to Michigan Democrats before the August 7 primary. The road won’t be easy, as he’ll have to win not only a tightly-contested primary, but a tightly-contested November election in a perennial battleground state. However, Abdul El-Sayed’s bold progressive policies makes him stand out from the competition.


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.

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