Creating the Future Of Community Broadband: A 2019 Economic Development Study

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and started surveying government economic development officials about community broadband’s effect in 2006. Each year the survey has illuminated both the challenges and the benefits of community networks.

This is just a short summary of the complete analysis report. The full report is due mid-July.

What does IEDC the 2019 survey reveal?

Every survey starts with IEDC members highlighting the lay of the land in terms of wireless and wired broadband networks. For the first time, this year’s survey respondents offer feedback on the roles of wireless and co-ops in community broadband.

Almost 40% report they are living in a broadband monopoly (18%) or a duopoly (21%) with one major cable company and one major telco and little or no competition within either realm.

11% of economic development pros feel that WISPs carry the bulk of the broadband load in their respective communities. 37% of survey respondents report that local co-ops have plans to build wireless broadband structure, and 35% say that co-ops in their jurisdictions are planning to deploy fiber infrastructure.

This year’s survey examines three critical issues: 1) availability; 2) affordability; and 3) the FCC definition of broadband speed – 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed, 3 Mbps upload speed. 41% of respondents say maybe half of their residences have broadband available to them, and 13% of respondents say 20% or less of the residents in their jurisdictions can get broadband.

When asked what was a major obstacle to residents gaining access, 52% responded that broadband in their area “costs too much.” 28% of economic development pros feel their constituents are charged too much and see too little value, while another 27% feel that broadband in their area is so expensive that “many can’t afford to buy.”

How does broadband generate local economic benefit?

Every year, “searching for a job“ is the least valuable impact on the individual. This year, according to the pros, the top two benefits are improving indivuals’ job skills (29%) and reaching higher education levels (26%). Two different goals requiring two different sets of broadband tactics.

For years the broadband industry focused on download speeds when in reality many applications require as much or faster upload speeds According to the FCC, that’s 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload.

Across the board, the many survey respondents say 100 to 120 Mbps symmetrical is the needed speed for generating economic outcomes. The much sought after gigabit is more of a factor in attracting new business to town and making current businesses more competitive. It is less so with attracting new homeowners or enabling libraries to maximize their services.

Economic development pros are bullish on telehealth as an economic engine. They see economic benefits using community broadband to create telehealth hubs. Healthcare facilities would be the hubs. Anchor institutions such as libraries and senior centers would spread telehealth on broadband “spokes” throughout a community. The survey indicates these hubs could create healthcare outcomes that directly or indirectly impact local economies.

Shifting gears again, respondents weighed in on economic issues related to using community broadband for K-12 education. 43% reported that less than half of the kids in their area don’t have Internet access at home, and 12% responded that 20% or fewer of the kids in their jurisdiction don’t have home access.

Because using community broadband effectively in education requires more than just laying fiber and wireless access routers in the ground, respondents’ communities are implementing additional tactics to impact success: 39% are addressing parents’ and teachers’ digital literacy, 33% are attacking the Homework Gap directly, and 36% are pursuing broadband AND education grants.

All of this and much more are included in the final survey analysis. So stay tuned.

Acknowledgements:

I want to thank my partner IEDC who has made this survey possible since 2006, and also ETI Software for being a valuable sponsor of this project. We’re looking for one more to round out our team.

See my presentation at Mountain Connect:
Telehealth: The Next Big Thing in Community Broadband
June 26, 1:30 pm – 2:15 pm, Qaundry Peak 3

About ETI Software:
ETI Software Solutions specializes in operational software for service and subscriber provisioning, network configuration, inventory control, and performance management for broadband service providers. Its Vision360 software is designed for fiber network operators, including municipalities, utilities and electric co-ops. Vision360 features seamless order entry and work order management, automated service provisioning, device inventory and device management, comprehensive network management tools and advanced visual analytics to help maximize revenue.

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