Broadband isn’t just about doing things faster – it’s about things like driverless cars but only where there is broadband

Broadband used to just help us do things faster. We could send files faster. Maybe it saved us a trip to Target when we could order online. But now, broadband lets us do different things – like work from home, take classes online or remotely check in on health issues. But the differences are about to take an even greater leap forward.

Smart Cities Dive reccently wrote about the potentnial (and different) impact of driverless cars in urban and rural areas…

But unless things change dramatically, this polarization is not at its zenith; it’s just beginning. The next step in this digital and economic evolution is the coming autonomous vehicle (AV) economy, where in the coming decades the combination of sharing, electrification and autonomous driving technologies will be genuinely transformational, affecting all aspects of the economy from transportation to real estate prices, taxation, education and future employment.

For cities, the business case and transformation path for the AV economy is easy enough to see. Driving and parking is expensive and difficult. Commuting from the suburbs is time-consuming and often dangerous. High density urban areas have a growing number of young and elderly happy to ride share and forgo having cars altogether.

Supported by powerful and reliable gigabyte-level broadband services and a plethora of high-quality fixed wireless and mobile phone providers, cities are scrambling to embrace the AV movement, with more than 50 metropolitan areas already hosting AV pilot programs.

The business and use case for small town and rural communities is obviously different, but in many ways stronger. After all, one major advantage of autonomous vehicles is that they are safer.

Rural drivers struggle with high speeds, longer distances and poorer roads and signage — with a crash fatality rate nearly three times as high as that in cities. And as rural populations continue to age, many of the critical services – shopping, visiting the doctor, or simply getting out of the house to visit friends and family — can all be enhanced with shared use and self-driving vehicles.

Possibly the most important benefit of AV technologies in rural areas is that they maintain a connection — an economic lifeline — through extended corridors of AV service to large cities and enterprise zones and transportation hubs. And it works both ways. Consumers will want their autonomous cars to travel beyond the city borders, and the idea of AVs being limited exclusively to our cities and suburbs only increases the urban vs. rural economic and political divide.

In short, smart towns are just as important as smart cities, and the transitional nature of the AV economy could go a long way to including “flyover” America in the growing economic prosperity of our booming cities and enterprise zones.

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