A mere few decades ago, the internet was being hailed as a technological wonder — but today, there are those who would argue it’s become such a necessary tool for modern life that it ought to be considered a basic human right. Regardless of whether you agree with that particular statement, it’s certainly hard to deny that high-speed internet access confers significant benefits on the people who have it. In fact, some world governments have already declared high-speed internet “essential for quality of life,” with Canada planning to spend as much as $750 million to provide service to rural areas in that country by the year 2021.
As of 2016, 92% of the U.S. population already enjoy broadband internet access. However, the 8% who didn’t accounted for approximately 24 million people (which, for the record, is equal to roughly two thirds of Canada’s entire population). Furthermore, 80% of those 24 million lived in rural communities — which means people in those areas are much more likely to face the disadvantages of living without broadband internet than their urban counterparts. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what benefits broadband internet offers to rural Americans.
Why Broadband Access Is Vital for Quality of Life
The differences between broadband and dial-up internet might not sound significant to most people at first. However, does waiting over an entire minute for results every time you run a Google search sound fun to you? Yeah, we didn’t think so either — but it turns out that lack of access to high-speed internet can also cause much larger problems.
The truth is, high-speed internet access does much more than just allow you to run searches and stream your favorite series. It also has implications for several key indicators of quality of life — such as employment, education, and healthcare.
Potential for Remote Work
Studies show that remote work is beneficial to both organizations and employees. In fact, the ability to work remotely even once a month makes the average employee 24% more likely to be both happy and productive. The number of people who work from home is on the rise, too — up a whopping 140% from where it was in 2005.
However, the ability to work remotely depends on internet access. If performing a simple online search with dial-up internet takes over a minute, trying to use modern project management software such as Microsoft Teams or even open and edit a simple Google Doc would be practically impossible. Without broadband, many people in rural areas are completely cut off from the advantages that remote work offers, and in danger of slipping into obsolescence as more businesses embrace it.
Distance Learning and Other Educational Advantages
Many colleges, universities, and other adult education programs now have distance learning options for students who can’t reach their physical campuses. That’s not exactly new — but what we’re learning about the value of distance learning is. Research published this year indicates that distance learning helps over 80% of U.S. college students boost their grades.
In other words, the ability to take some (or all) of your classes online could give you a competitive advantage when you graduate and enter the job market. Broadband internet can even be a useful educational tool before post-secondary studies, giving parents better homeschooling resources or easier channels through which to communicate with their children’s schools.
The Rise of Telemedicine
One of the most obvious areas where broadband internet can make a difference to people’s lives is healthcare. Patients who are unable to travel can use the internet to connect directly with medical professionals when they need advice or diagnoses. Unfortunately, the connection speed required for video calling programs like Skype far exceeds the limits of dial-up connections, meaning that patients without broadband will likely struggle to provide important visual aids to their care providers.
Currently, 67% of patients across the country feel that telemedicine improves their satisfaction when it comes to medical care. Not being able to access these services directly impacts the physical well-being of Americans living in rural areas.
Investing in the Future
Given the established need for broadband internet in rural communities throughout the nation, we are all faced with an unprecedented opportunity. Those who can find innovative and cost-effective ways to provide broadband for these areas will be able to corner emerging markets, gain competitive advantages and change people’s lives.