Jack Schultz, founder and CEO of Agracel, Inc.
For Rural Development Speed Matters
We must eliminate the speed bumps to rural broadband access
“Live where you want. Work electronically!” This is probably going to be a promo that you are going to see more in the workforce, especially as the baby boomers begin to retire. It is a trend that I’m seeing more often in my travels around the country.
In the Lost Rivers Valley of Idaho I recently met Kevin and Cheri Pearson who are living exactly that dream. Kevin graduated from college in computer science in 1995 and immediately went to work for Hewlett-Packard (HP) in Boise. He and Cheri decided that they didn’t want to raise their two children in the big city. Kevin approached HP about working permanently from home. HP agreed, and Kevin, Cheri and their two children moved from Boise to the Lost River Valley.
The Pearsons live on a small farm that is about three miles outside of Moore, Idaho. Having a DSL connection at the farm was one of the key decisions on where to live when they made the move back home.
Are you ready for these new electronic workers in your town? Do you have the broadband connections that they are going to need?
The results of a second annual survey of Internet speeds, conducted by the Communication Workers of America, show that the United States has not made significant improvement in the speeds at which residents connect to the Internet. Our nation continues to fall far behind other countries. The median download speed for the nation was 2.3 megabits per second (mbps). In Japan, the median download speed is 63 mbps, or 30 times faster than the U.S.
The survey included nearly 230,000 people in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Surveyors visited speedmatters.org and took an Internet speed test. The final results show the United States has fallen to 15th behind other industrialized nations in the percent of the population subscribing to broadband. (Visit www.speedmatters.org.)
Many states and communities have begun to take action. The Broadband Development Council has been established in Illinois to “advocate for affordable, world-class communication networks in every corner of Illinois, not just for individual citizens, but for businesses, schools, hospitals, libraries and other organizations.”
Broadband access is a topic we researched extensively for the book Boomtown USA. We felt then, as we do today, that broadband access to all corners of the United States is critical for the long term competitiveness of our country, in particular, the rural regions. With high speed Internet access, anyone can become a global competitor.
I’m convinced that broadband is a necessity for rural economic development, and is as important as water, sewer and electricity. I’ve yet to have an industrial client show up on a site visit and ask me, “Do they have electricity here?” Broadband is already as important as the three other infrastructures. It’s something you must have!
I’m happy to see electric and telecommunications cooperatives and entrepreneurs taking the initiative to develop rural broadband and fill in the gaps where larger broadband providers still do not see a high enough profit. As with electricity in the early 1900s, distance and low population density have always made it difficult and expensive to serve rural areas with any kind of new service. However, if you ask anyone who lived in the “pre-electricity” days what the single most important technology developed in their lifetime, they will undoubtedly tell you electricity to the masses. And these are people who witnessed man walking on the moon, atomic bombs, air travel and television.
Going forward, we need to remember that our children are depending on us to create a future in which they can succeed. And, ideally, that future will involve them staying in their hometowns and establishing businesses, even some that may require an international presence. Broadband availability will be a key component to that success. If we don’t act now, our communities will risk losing these young entrepreneurs, and our future.
Jack Schultz is founder and CEO of Agracel, Inc., Effingham, Ill., an industrial development firm focused on rural America (www.agracel.com).
The opinions and views of guest commentators are their own and may not represent those of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives or the electric co-ops of Illinois.
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