We’ve long suspected that a lack of good broadband connections in a community goes hand-in-hand with low economic performance. According to research from Broadband Communities magazine, between 2010 and 2013, areas with poor access to broadband grew their populations at one-tenth the rate of areas with robust broadband service.The magazine reported that the population rose 0.27% in counties ranking in the bottom half of their states for access to 25 Mbps download speeds. By contrast, counties in the top half saw an increase of 2.79% – or more than 10 times as much as the lower-ranked ones.
The disparity between the top and bottom 10% of counties in each state was even more glaring. The top counties added 3.18% to their population tally, while the bottom counties lost 0.55%.
During the same period, the U.S. population increased 0.29%.
The growth in numbers of people at each end of the broadband divide indicates the real size of the chasm. Counties in the lower half of the scale added 134,390 people, but those in the upper half attracted 7.2 million.
The Urban – Rural Broadband Divide
Broadband Communities did not classify any counties as rural or urban. But the characteristics of the lower-ranked counties it describes point strongly toward the counties being rural.
A 2010 study from the Department of Commerce noted the lack of broadband availability for rural residents. In January 2015, the executive office of the president of the United States reported that 94% of the urban population enjoys broadband at 25 Mbps, but only 51% of rural Americans have access to the Internet at this speed.
Broadband and Rural Economies
The Broadband Communities analysis raises some critical questions. Is the dearth of broadband in our rural communities the cause or the result of low population growth? What are the consequences for rural economies?
The answers are seldom cut-and-dried. Researchers point out that data from the study shows that in half the counties, broadband deficiency was a cause of population loss. However, they caution that to arrive at a definite conclusion, one must take other factors into account, such as the age of the population, income, job creation, and so on.
The effects of a population drain on local economies are easier to trace. As people leave a region, so do jobs and incomes. Smaller populations mean smaller economic and political clout.
One feature of the knowledge economy is that many jobs can be done from anywhere – as long as workers have a broadband connection. Building more broadband networks in rural areas may very well be the first step in improving their economies.
To learn more about Resolute Partners capabilities as a partner for rural broadband installation see our capabilities statement below and feel free to contact us.