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NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016 | www.broadbandcommunities.com | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | 71 Broadband: The Key Ingredient For Rural Economic Development Cooking up an economic development plan for rural and near-rural counties? Be sure to stir in broadband if the area is underserved – but be aware that the existing economic base will influence broadband's impact. By Steven S. Ross / Broadband Communities I n two major studies over the past two years (reported in the November-December 2014 and May-June 2015 issues of this magazine), I established that lack of broadband access accounts for at least 25 percent and as much as half of the rural population loss since 2010. In this article, I examine the effect of broadband access on different types of rural counties. Are counties in which the dominant economic activity is farming hurt more by lack of broadband than, say, counties that are retirement havens? As in the previous studies, I used U.S. Census data for population shifts and the National Broadband Map to rank counties' broadband access within their states. e map's quality, never high, has deteriorated. e FCC now has responsibility for updating it but was given no funding to do so. I turned to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its classification of all counties by dominant economic activity and for several poverty and employment measures. e latest classifications were released in December, 2015. As before, I looked at all 3,144 counties and countylike municipalities in the United States. OVERALL FINDINGS I first confirmed that population change is indeed a good surrogate for income and employment change. Using population data is preferable because more timely, accurate and precise data are available for rural population than for rural income and employment. I also confirmed the conclusions of the two earlier articles: Rural counties in states that restrict municipal broadband have the biggest rural-urban divide in terms of population growth despite greater growth in top-ranked broadband counties; the "haves" in these states steal growth from the "have-nots." is outcome would be unlikely if the overall national relationship between broadband access and population growth were spurious or if the population loss were causing most of the lack of broadband rather than vice versa. Determining how unlikely is tricky because not all restrictions are the same and the laws that restrict municipal broadband were enacted between 2004 and 2014. Conservatively, however, the chances are less than 1 in 100 that the results are spurious. Previously, I found that states that restrict municipal broadband have grown faster since 2010 – 2.92 versus 1.93 percent. However, that growth was concentrated in urban counties that have good broadband access. e bottom half of counties in "restriction" states grew only 0.23 percent since 2010 versus 0.30 percent for the bottom half of counties in states that have no restrictions, even though the restriction states are growing faster overall. e difference widens for counties ranked in the lowest 10 percent of all ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT