Earlier this year, the USDA announced that $550 million in funds was to be earmarked for expanding broadband access in rural areas. That announcement, as well as the current global health crisis, has focused widespread attention on the lack of reliable, high-speed internet in rural communities across the United States.
The ability to work remotely, once a luxury, has now become vital for many jobs across America as stay at home orders limit or prohibit on-site work for large numbers of workers. Remote work depends on reliable internet, and for too long rural Americans have been left behind.
What Funding Initiatives Are Currently on the Table?
Though the funding request deadline for the USDA’s initiative has passed, some states (including Colorado) have launched their own initiatives and administrative bodies. A comprehensive list of current broadband task forces, commissions, and authorities by state can be found on the National Conference of State Legislators website.
At the time of publication, the following states had active administrative bodies focused on expanding broadband access:
- New York
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
How Will Expanded Broadband Funding Improve the Lives of Rural Americans?
Broadband internet is critical for keeping rural Americans connected to the broader world by allowing for remote work opportunities, providing access to distance learning, and providing telemedical services.
A fast, reliable internet connection allows employees to work remotely and remain productive. Even before the current health crisis hit, a study conducted earlier this year found that the average employee was 24% more likely to be happier and more productive if they were able to work remotely for as little as one day per month.
Pivoting to remote work has allowed many businesses to remain productive and weather the storm, highlighting the benefits of remote work for both businesses and their workers.
Distance Learning & Educational Advantages
As schools, colleges, and universities have been forced to shut down their campuses and quickly pivot to online learning, the necessity of a fast and reliable internet connection has been thrown into the spotlight. Before the pandemic, remote learning allowed students to attend schools without requiring them to be physically present on campus.
This was vital for students who couldn’t attend classes in person, whether for family, medical, or financial reasons, allowing them to access the same high-quality education regardless of their location or personal circumstances.
The need for comprehensive, high-quality telemedicine services has been highlighted by the current pandemic as medical professionals seek to provide vital services while also remaining physically distant whenever possible. Even before the pandemic hit, telemedicine allowed rural Americans to access medical services, such as consults with specialists, that were unavailable in their communities.
Attracting New Residents to Rural Communities
Until now, most of the discussion has been focused on how additional funding for broadband internet will improve the lives Americans already residing in rural communities. However, a fast and reliable high-speed internet connection can also be used to attract new residents to rural communities. The ability to work and learn remotely can encourage families to relocate to rural communities, potentially reversing the trend of young residents migrating to urban centers for post-secondary school or work and not returning.
How Can We All Help Bring Broadband to Rural Communities?
From the funding and approval application process to identifying underserved residents and areas to helping prepare the required materials, including proposed network design schematics and project cost estimates, there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of different entities.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD9aLcUOwHo&list=PLhuzXiZrAY-AncOUvtjMKZDjEh5APyrKUTo learn more about this topic, check out our latest Beer and Broadband series.