National Survey Report – Broadband’s Impact on Economic Development: The Real Deal

Every two years, the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and I team up to survey economic development professionals and others nationwide to learn how broadband is impacting economic development efforts. This year, 301 individuals participated, and their feedback has been particularly revealing (Read the full report here).

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The 2010 survey is “The Real Deal” as it digs beneath the hype surrounding broadband’s potential to influence local economies, and extracts data from those who deal with these issues daily. We also present for the first time the comments respondents offered to help implement broadband projects that produce economic development results. And on October 13 (2:00 p.m. EDT), I’m conducting a Webinar to give you steps for moving forward with a strategy after you’ve read the survey report.

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Respondents’ peers as well as government policy makers need to read and heed both the data and the comments. Several results of the survey argue sharply against directions that some government agencies, politicians and private industries appear to be leading us.

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We break out broadband into two categories, wireless and wired, to show that each has different impacts that should be considered when developing broadband strategy. We also look separately at business outcomes (attracting new business, reviving depressed business districts, etc), and personal economic outcomes such as increasing entrepreneurialism and improving job training.

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Wireless has a role to play in economic development, for example, but only 36% of survey respondents believe it directly impacts new business attraction to a community whereas 55% believe that fiber networks directly impacts this outcome. Respondents consistently rated wireless higher as an indirect influence on the economic outcomes we asked respondents to consider.

There appears to be strong belief that broadband can improve local economies at the individual constituent level. 52% of respondents believe the technology can help harness home-based businesses into a strong economic development force, and 43% feel broadband can be used to influence underserved individuals to become entrepreneurs.

Support for some federal government goals is weak. Over 90% of those surveyed found government-recommended goals of 4 Mbps for rural areas inadequate for impacting economic development outcomes. Over 55% believe speeds of 100 Mbps (the FCC’s goal for 100 million mostly urban and suburban households) or more are needed, but within three years, not 10 as some Federal agencies support.

Support of the private sector is mixed. 37% of rural respondents say they do not have sufficient broadband to reach the economic outcomes presented, with over half of this group believing they may never have the broadband they need. 58% of respondents from all areas believe Universal Service Fund reform should enable communities to determine where funds go that are targeted to broadband. 50% believe the community should own the network in whole or in partnership with private sector companies, while 47% feel broadband should be provided exclusively by the private sector.

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