Last night I was working on a report that is intended to light a fire under community leaders who are annoyingly (to me) ambivalent about broadband. Why don’t they get it? It got a little late and at some point I think I may have said broadband cures cancer. So it was fun to find myself reading Craig Settles’ recent report – Moving the Needle Forward on Broadband and Economic Development. It takes a careful look at the gap between what politicians seem to be touting as an outcome of better broadband and the actual reasonably expected benefits of broadband. (I should add that it sounds like a sneak preview to a larger report to come.)
Craig surveyed International Economic Development Council members about the real impacts of broadband on a community – specifically he asks about:
- attracting new businesses,
- making local companies more competitive,
- revising depressed business districts,
- revising depressed communities,
- improving individuals’ ability to earn income, and
- increasing home-‐based businesses.
Here’s a quick look at what value economic developers seem to attribute to various broadband speeds:
Cure cancer doesn’t make the list – but what’s there is so much more valuable in that it sets realistic expectations. It’s a practical tool that economic developers can use to figure out what kind of speeds are required to achieve the goals they are trying to meet in their communities. If you’re looking to lure new businesses to the area – you want to plan big. If you are interested in boosting local incomes, then a more modest approach may work just as well. I think this chart does such a good job of helping economic developers set realistic expectations based on the custom goals of the community.
And speaking of realistic expectations – Craig points out that few of the economic developers are focusing on 4 Mbps as the minimum speeds required to see economic benefits. Yet that is the federal definition of broadband. This may be a disconnect of another sort…
The question of speed is important because this is the crux of so many critical broadband issues. Federal government agencies have defined broadband as networks that move data at 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps. Entities requesting money from these agencies can qualify for billions of dollars by meeting these standards. Broadband maps from these agencies can determine communities to be served by broadband – and thus be ineligible for government assistance – if those communities meet this minimum.
When state governments are developing broadband policies, establishing funding programs, committing resources and measuring the success of policies and programs, the federal definition of broadband guides those actions. If “improving the economy” is a major reason for committing resources to broadband efforts, how can agencies and politicians expect success when guided by a speed threshold 90% of experts believe is insufficient to reach the goal?
[Quick promotional message - this makes me even more excited for the Fall Broadband Conference, where Craig will be speaking. When: Nov 13-14; where: Duluth]