Study: Broadband Boosts Rural Jobs, Income

Expanding the reach of broadband and helping people use it productively can provide an economic lift to rural America, according to a team of university researchers.

“We found that rural counties that did a good job of adopting broadband had higher rates of income growth and lower rates of unemployment growth,” said Brian Whitacre, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension economist, and leader of the study group.

The report, released Aug. 5, looked at broadband, household income and employment growth in nonmetropolitan counties of less than 50,000 people, which the federal government uses as shorthand for “rural.”

Rural counties in which at least 60 percent of households had a wired high-speed Internet connection showed stronger income growth and a smaller growth in unemployment rates, the study concluded.

In contrast, counties in which less than 40 percent of households had broadband experienced slower growth in business and employment.

Whitacre said the data represent one of the few attempts to measure the impact of high-speed Internet on rural economic development. Electric cooperatives strongly support increased access to broadband in rural America.

“When broadband first came out, there were all sorts of claims that it would be great for rural areas, but until now we really hadn’t seen any firm evidence on whether broadband impacts economic growth in these areas,” he said.

It’s not enough just to be connected to cyberspace. Users have to know how to navigate the Web once they’re online.

“There’s not much being spent on showing people what can be done with broadband, or getting people to use it productively,” Whitacre said. “We might want to spend more public funds on promoting adoption, as opposed to just giving people access by subsidizing the providers.”

Funding for the study was provided by the National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center, which is backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Other researchers included Roberto Gallardo of the Mississippi State University Extension Center for Technology Outreach, and Sharon Strover, a professor in communication at the University of Texas.

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