Place Matters With Spread of Broadband

[imgbelt img=PikeCounty.jpg]The federal government will issue billions in grants to bring broadband to underserved places. Strong local leadership will make this program more successful.

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There were some common themes among the four counties. Broadband use increased in all the counties between 2005 and 08. In each county, residents made great use of internet connections in public libraries. Also, “home broadband users were more likely than non-users to plan further education, a consistent finding across all four sites,” according to the report. People in all four counties used broadband to take courses.

(It’s worthwhile to note that libraries were not good places for people to take online classes. Time was limited online at the libraries and students could not be assured of getting the time online they needed to complete their work. Internet education works best when the courses can be taken at home.)

The researchers also found that as broadband spread there was an uptick in the numbers of people who wanted to start their own businesses. And they discovered that people in the four counties found uses of the Internet that “increased the social support experienced by rural residents.”

Not all the findings were encouraging for those who see broadband as the key to saving rural communities and economies. One of the more interesting — and counterintuitive — findings in the report is that broadband connections may spur outmigration from rural areas.

“One reason people are most enthusiastic about broadband is that their small town will have amenities found in big cities,” Strover said. “They thought (broadband) would fill the entertainment quota for young people and make their community more attractive.” Strover said the researchers found the opposite to be true. “There was a strong correlation between subscribing to these services and intention to leave,” said the University of Texas professor.

One of the most striking lessons learned in the study, according to Strover, is that local leadership made a large difference in how effective the RUS grants were employed. In the two Texas counties, there was little community involvement in the broadband project. In one county, the project fell apart entirely. 

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