Many of us take our broadband for granted. We’re connected constantly and effortlessly both at home and at work—we make purchases, pay bills, deposit checks, and run businesses. But not everyone in the U.S. can identify with this level of access to fast, dependable broadband. In fact, today nearly 20 million Americans have little or no internet access, and about a quarter of adults in rural areas report that the limited access to high-speed internet is hurting their communities. There are efforts underway to remedy the situation, however. The USDA, for example, is investing more than $150 million in 19 broadband infrastructure projects across 14 states.
Why is this issue so critical to rural America? Read on to learn six reasons why rural broadband is urgently needed.
1. Employment and economic growth
There’s a strong correlation between employment and broadband access. With job application processes moving online, being disconnected puts an extra hurdle in front of every job seeker. And employers are less likely to set up shop in areas where they won’t have adequate connections to suppliers, customers, and workers, meaning that corporations avoid investing in these areas.
2. Remote work opportunities
Speaking of employment, virtual and telework opportunities are expanding and offer many benefits. Access to broadband makes it possible for rural workers to become part of this growing economy, cutting down on lengthy commutes, reducing wear-and-tear on their vehicles, saving money, and improving work-life balance. Being able to work remotely also connects rural workers to employers based in other, more urban locations.
3. Education access
More than 6 million students in 45 states don’t have access to high speed internet, limiting their schools’ curriculums and their families’ access to learning materials. Adult learners are at a disadvantage, as well. From college applications to online coursework, members of disconnected communities are missing out on vast opportunities to learn. This doesn’t just hamper individuals’ career opportunities, but can also depress local economies as worker skillsets stagnate.
4. Health care
Rural hospitals or clinics without fast, dependable internet access can’t easily connect with larger medical centers, research, and specialists. They may also find it more difficult to secure and effectively use state-of-the-art equipment. On the consumer side, broadband can help patients connect with their providers, access their medical records, or even make virtual appointments with doctors online.
5. Farming and ranching
With the internet of things (IoT) driving the way industries source materials, transport goods, and manage operations, farmers and ranchers who want to control costs, compete, and grow need broadband access that dependably connects them to rest of the world. “Smart farming” technology—allowing farmers to remotely monitor weather and soil moisture, control irrigation, track livestock movements, and control tractors via GPS—requires broadband, which is not available for many rural farmers.
6. Independent aging
Nine out of 10 boomers want to age in their own homes—a significant stat considering that 10,000 baby boomers move into senior-citizen status every day. Rural seniors, particularly those with far-flung families, benefit greatly from dependable broadband. Family members can check in via video, ping parents or grandparents with reminders about medication, send supplies and groceries via online delivery, and even help them access their healthcare providers and medical information from a distance.
From classified ads and printed newspapers to the Yellow Pages, the old ways of connecting to goods, services, and information are disappearing. It took 50 years to fully electrify rural parts of the United States, but with new technological changes occurring daily, Americans can’t wait that long for broadband. Today, online is becoming the only option—and that’s why efforts are underway to ensure that every community can connect to, and thrive in, the digital economy.
To learn more about this issue, along with ways to help, visit our Rural Broadband page.