Johnathan Hladlik, policy director with the Center For Rural Affairs, says 31% of rural households lack access to broadband internet. He says that means those communities and their residents will be at an economic disadvantage.
“We know as agriculture changes, as manufacturing changes, consistently we see micro-entrepreneurs and small business creation as being a key element to employment and strong economies in rural areas,” Hladik says. “Frankly, today, having broadband and high-speed internet is essential to a successful business.”
The center’s report, called “Map to Prosperity,” found of the more than 25-million households that lack access to broadband internet, 19-million of them are in rural areas. Hladik says coverage maps being used to determine how many people are covered in rural communities need to be re-written.
“From 2011 to 2015, there was funding for each and every state to identify where broadband access existed,” Hladik says. “You could go in and you could know which addresses had broadband and which addresses did not have broadband. That was federal money that has since dried up.” States that use less-effective methods to monitor coverage are bringing about large over-estimations about who’s covered.
Hladik says that’s unacceptable when considering how much broadband can contribute to a state’s economy. “Increasing broadband access by 10% translates to an estimated 1% increase in gross domestic product,” he says, “and it shows that 80 new jobs are created for every additional 1,000 broadband users within a state or within a community.”
The center is pushing for legislation that will ensure better coverage for rural communities. Broadband is defined by the FCC as internet connections capable of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for download and 3 Mbps for upload speeds.