On April 20th, 2016, Hudson Institute released "The Economic Impact of Rural Broadband," a report commissioned by the Foundation for Rural Service (FRS). That got us thinking, how many community benefits can we list? We know that towns like Ganado, Louise, Markham and others in the Jackson, Wharton, and Matagorda county area are making use of high-speed internet services, but how are individuals and business owners actually impacted by having that service available?
NTCA.org summarized the report's findings this way:
- Rural broadband companies have contributed $24.1 billion to the US economy in 2015, through their own operations and the follow-on impact of their operations.
- Over $100 billion in e-commerce was supported by rural broadband, with the largest share drawn from the manufacturing sector.
- Rural broadband services expand access for the nearly 20% of Americans living in rural communities, enabling the use of new technologies such as distance education, telemedicine, remote monitoring systems aided by live-stream video and multi-participant interactive programming.
By our calculations and brainstorming, there are at least 15 ways broadband access helps our rural communities grow.
Websites like Ebay, Etsy, Facebook, and Pinterest are a haven for crafters, creators, "junkers," and anyone else who has something to sell. Businesses with services to offer can also promote their brand online and put the internet to work for them. With a broadband connection, businesses can connect to millions of consumers in just a few clicks.
Online classes, anyone? From homeschooling to college degrees and continuing education - it's all available online! Where students once had to (gasp!) put on clothes and make their way into a classroom several days out of the week, most educational programs now offer an online program that's easier on rural students living hours away from the nearest campus.
Rural clinics and hospitals can quickly and securely connect to larger, urban medical centers with specialists and advanced equipment. Patients can also view online medical records, make payments and schedule appointments, or even live chat with doctors - all without a long drive into the nearest city.
Not only are online consumers saving a trip to the store, but promo codes, online rewards points, flash sales, and free shipping programs like Amazon Prime can offer some real incentives for online shoppers. Broadband connects those consumers to savings.
"If you build it, they will come." A small town with commercial land to sell is all well and good, but add in a solid network that will connect a large business to its vendors, employees, and consumers, and you've got prime real estate for potential employers. Big business brings jobs, and high-speed internet brings the businesses.
With easy access to online consumers, website building tools, networks, and online advertising options, there's little to no barrier to entry for new business owners. Starting a Facebook page and PayPal account are free, and the simplicity empowers entrepreneurs to turn their dreams into reality.
Most people on the road these days use some form of GPS. Without an internet connect, local businesses wouldn't show up on maps or in local Google search listings. Being connected means passersby can learn about local businesses and make a stop as they move through the area.
Gone are the days of hand-written letters delivered by pony. Telegrams are old news too, and who even uses a phone for actually talking nowadays? ... Grandma and Grandpa can enjoy retirement in Florida and still see their grand kids in real-time on the computer screen. We joke, but broadband has truly changed the way we communicate.
Farmers and ranchers on social media? You betcha. There are entire websites devoted to buying a selling livestock, and farmers use the internet to analyze weather data, manage nutrient application, map their crop yields, and adjust planting for the next season with modern precision agriculture tools. Rural broadband means farmers and ranchers can have an easier time bringing their product to market and complying with regulations.
We hope our young people stay close by and contribute to the local community forever, but the likely outcome is that they'll find a lucrative opportunities through the use of online networks and internet research. Sky's the limit!
Websites and social media presence aside, businesses can simply list their business online and drive traffic to their physical location. Outsiders don't need to reach for a local phone book or newspaper - directions, address, and contact information is just an "Ok, Google" away.
Thousands of dollars are saved in rural communities where employees once had no other choice than to drive 1+ hours to work and put wear/tear on their vehicles. Lower car maintenance expenses and less stress - sounds like a win/win.
High-speed broadband means businesses can connect to helpful tools and apps. Employee payroll, direct deposit, online software like QuickBooks, Adobe, Office, and even online banking are luxuries to which some rural areas simply don't have access.
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Social networks and websites give rural citizens access to important updates from government agencies and local police forces. Dangerous situations, Amber Alerts, and emergency notifications can all be made in real-time through use of a broadband network.
The Internet allows users to be connected now more than ever before to events, news, and data. Communities lacking this infrastructure rely on costly mobile data networks to stay updated.
We'll close with a quote from Rick Boucher, a former Democratic congressman who chaired the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet and now serves as honorary chairman of the IIA.
“Today, high-speed Internet is the backbone for 21st century economic growth in the digital economy. Unnecessary price regulation in competitive broadband markets will have far-reaching negative impacts on U.S. economic growth and development. Without ample investment in modern networks, consumers and the entire broadband ecosystem – from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to edge providers – will suffer from reduced innovation and fewer cutting edge broadband services, as well as reduced jobs and economic growth in the nation’s Internet economy.”
How has access to broadband internet affected your local community? Leave us a comment - we'd love to hear it.