Craig Settles has released a new report (Revving the Community Broadband Economic Engine) on the state of broadband from the perspective of a community. He surveyed members of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), and looks at:
- the state of broadband
- broadband’s impact on local economies
- broadband-driven education and healthcare
- community broadband money matters
Hard to summarize such an expansive report – but I think the key is asking community members about broadband not the providers. As I found when we looked at community return on public investment in broadband – it doesn’t always coincide with profitability for a provider; just because a home or business is better off economically with broadband, that doesn’t mean they want to send a bigger check to their provider. But what providers with local roots have seen is that the investment is creating greater need (new startup businesses) and stability (greater stability for local residents, means less chance of someone leaving).
Here are some points I found interesting:
Reliability is an issue
It seems that when many communities talk about broadband quality in their area, they often are referring to network speed. But in reality, communities need to focus on reliability as much or more than speed. If kids are relying on the network to take their finals, or parents are relying on telehealth to keep them alive, being 99.99 certain that their network won’t go south tomorrow matters. A lot!
Affordability is an issue
In this year’s IEDC survey, 28% of respondents felt their constituents got great value for the money they spent for broadband. However, 27% say constituents pay too much for too little. Another 27% feel broadband in their area, if they can get it, is so expensive many cannot even afford to subscribe. 17% are happy they can get broadband but feel they should be able to get faster speeds and better service
Supply and Demand creates a vicious cycle in rural areas
On the business side of the equation, the three top barriers to broadband for businesses are codependent on each other. Rural population density, or the lack thereof, is the crux of the problem because without density it’s hard to make the financial case that draws ISPs to the table.
Without core broadband technology, it is hard to attract and retain talented people in the community. And the lack of innovative broadband enhancements after/if a community gets an initial network (because of a weak business case) just starts the circle again.
Broadband is key in economic development strategy
The percentage of respondents who are not sold on community broadband as an economic engine decreased significantly from 29% in 2014 to 13%. However, 38% say broadband is a big part of their current plan, and another 24% are incorporating broadband into their upcoming plans. 25% of respondents report that they do not have plans for using community broadband in their activities, so this stat has changed little in five years.