NBC recently wrote about the impact of broadband in rural America. They make the point that with better broadband, rural communities can see greater economic impact and they use Lake County as the example…
A contractor building high-end houses in Minneapolis swung by Greg Hull’s sawmill on Friday, a timber operation located in deeply rural Lake County, Minnesota. The builder had seen Hull’s website and driven nearly 250 miles to the mill to inspect Hull’s high-end lumber as potential building material for his homes.
These days that’s not unusual. In the past year-and-a-half, Hull has seen orders balloon and interest grow, and a significant factor is his recent ability to gain access to high-speed internet. That’s made a huge difference for the saw mill, located at the end of a power line in an area that knows only gravel roads and limited cellphone coverage.
“Before, if you wanted to download or do anything on the internet, back when it was a phone line system, you couldn’t do anything,” said Hull, who lives and works on 100 acres of Minnesota woodland. “I had to go to the library or hire someone to do stuff, but now we can do it all. We have an improved website. It’s made the whole internet presence a lot more viable, which has in turn opened the exposure.”
That’s something largely new to Lake County, an area that covers 3,000 square miles and stretches from the shores of Lake Superior to the Canadian border. About 10,000 people call this area home. But local leaders there decided they needed high-speed internet, and after nearly eight years and the investment of more than $80 million — much of it coming from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as former President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill) — access to the internet is beginning to boost the local economy.
That could mean a long-term impact of tens of millions of dollars in household economic benefit and residential real estate value, a report by the Blandin Foundation claimed.
The economic upside of internet access is being pushed by rural broadband advocates across the country who say that there isn’t enough being done to connect rural communities. Building out the necessary infrastructure, they argue, could function as an economic and informational driver for some of the country’s most cash-strapped regions.