Here at Telco Americana, we share stories of Internet triumphs across rural America. We believe that high-speed Internet access strengthens these communities’ economies by improving information and education accessibility and creating jobs. And of course, it’s always good to see official validation. Like this press release on the National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center (NARDeP) website. A team of researchers recently conducted a study funded by the NARDeP and found that broadband Internet does, in fact, drive economic growth in America’s rural communities, “especially when a large segment of the population adopts the technology.”
Specifically, the study concluded that counties with high levels of broadband adoption—defined as 60% or more households with wired high-speed connections—enjoyed higher income growth and experienced smaller hikes in unemployment than those counties with lower Internet adoption rates—defined as less than 40%. One key point of the study: accessibility was far less of a contributing factor than Internet adoption itself.
Led by Brian Whitacre, an associate professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University, the team of researchers included Roberto Gallardo, an associate extension professor at the Mississippi State University Extension Center for Technology Outreach and Sharon Strover, the Philip G. Warner Regents Professor in Communication at the University of Texas. Using 2010 county-level data, the team of researchers compared all non-metro counties’ broadband availability and adoption rates and then examined economic growth (i.e., household income, employment rates, and business development) between 2001 and 2010. As expected, the data showed a “significant relationship between broadband adoption and economic growth.”
But what was causing the correlation? According to the press release, the team wanted to make sure that broadband adoption was driving the economic growth and not the other way around. So, they “employed a statistical model that helped them look at their data through a historical lens,” examining data pre-2001 (before broadband availability) and pinpointing factors that may predict broadband adoption. They then grouped together similar counties and examined 2010 broadband adoption. According to the study, “Some of these [similar] counties went on to obtain very high levels of broadband adoption and others did not…the only thing the researchers found to account for the differences in economic growth among otherwise similar counties was the adoption of broadband.”
Teach a Man to Fish
While the findings are certainly noteworthy, the true measure of any study is its ability to incite action. The study found that communities have been spending money on developing infrastructure rather than on broadband adoption and usage education. The study shows, though, that adoption—rather than availability—is the key when it comes to economic growth. Thus, communities should look to “‘spend more public funds on promoting adoption, as opposed to just giving people access by subsidizing the providers.’” So, it’s less “if you build it, they will come,” and more “if you teach it, they will use.” The former might bring the ghosts of legendary ball players, but the latter—as this study shows—brings what rural America truly needs: growing economies. Not that watching Kevin Costner reunite with his father isn’t impressive. We here at Telco Americana just love connectivity that much.