BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.
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64 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2015 ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Rural Broadband And the Local Economy Rural residents are important customers for businesses in nearby towns. Thus, towns that build broadband networks to boost economic development should also connect their neighbors in outlying rural areas. By Tom Sloan / Kansas State Legislature I n the United States today, almost all customers of independent telephone companies have access to high-speed Internet services from non-satellite technologies. Rural customers of investor-owned telecommunications providers have similar demographics (below- average incomes, low population densities) but generally have less access to true high-speed broadband – and frequently pay higher rates for their lower broadband capabilities. Te diference in access between independent and investor-owned providers may be attributable to diferences in corporate strategies, diferential access to loan funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service or diferent desired rates of return and timelines for those returns. Tis information is crucial to understanding why community broadband systems should have opportunities to provide rural residents in their outlying areas with access to true broadband services. Connecting residents of small towns but leaving rural county residents with inadequate broadband service is not good enough. K–12 students who lack broadband access will do less well in their academic studies, students who go to college will be reluctant to return to areas without broadband, health care delivery will remain stuck in the 20th century and rural economic development will sufer. Today, connected farmers use the Internet to actively bid into grain markets, buy and sell livestock, assess long-range weather forecasts, Skype with children overseas in the military, and plan family events. Innovative small businesses thrive and contribute to local economies when broadband services are available. For example, Kansas resident Linda Katz, who was learning to code websites, created an imaginary business, Prairie Tumbleweed Farm, as the subject for her practice website. Orders fooded in, the business quickly became real, and today she sells tumbleweeds to interior decorators from New York City to Japan. In an article in the May-June 2015 issue of BroadBand Communities , I argued that community broadband infrastructure, or a viable threat to create one, might be necessary to create a competitive marketplace for broadband services in areas served by investor- owned telecom providers. Te article implicitly focused on municipal broadband systems for small towns, but the argument is equally valid for rural residents. Community participation is essential – whether in the form of a public-private partnership, public support of a private investment or, as a last resort, development of a public system – because the deployment cost recovery period can be much longer, and the