Photo of Lauren Mathena courtesy Invest Southern Virginia
November 19, 2020 – While the business case for rural broadband has been debated, panelists at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s monthly webinar on Wednesday concluded that rural broadband enhances local economies.
Mid-Atlantic Broadband was able to establish an open access network that has supported the flourishing of many other industries, explained Lauren Mathena, director of economic development for Mid-Atlantic Broadband.
Because of this network, Microsoft was able to build a data center in southern Virginia that has invested substantially in the community, including the establishment of a data center academy that the software company has used as a model for countless others across the world.
Hardide, a British top content provider, was also able to connect their headquarters in the UK to their Virginia plant remotely through Mid-Atlantic’s network.
Screenshot from the webinar
The network has supported business parks and health companies, as well as encouraged partnerships with local electric coops and Commonwealth Connect, Virginia’s broadband coalition.
Indraneel Kumar, principal regional planner at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, found that rural broadband firms created and supported more than 77,000 jobs across different industries in 2017. In a study called “Job Creation from Rural Broadband Companies,” he and his colleagues concluded that rural broadband companies were significant economic drivers in their communities. For every job created in broadband led to almost two additional jobs were created in the economy.
All important aspects of community life are supported by broadband
Joshua Seidemann, vice president of policy for rural broadband association NTCA, said that all the important aspects of a community—jobs, education, and access to good healthcare— could all be supported by broadband.
Jobs that had a telework component during the pandemic lost just half a percent of employees, versus 2.7 percent for non-telework jobs.
A school in Kansas was able to help students take a virtual fieldtrip to Yellowstone National Park using the school’s gigabit connection provided by Golden Belt Telephone association.
An NTCA’s paper on “Anticipating Economic Returns of Rural Telehealth,” published as part of the association’s smart rural community program, found rural telehealth could save an average of $30,000 per year. That’s from lost wages for travel expenses that would otherwise have been incurred when rural residents had to travel to the facilities.
He also said that rural telehealth has increased the local laboratory and pharmacy revenues, ranging from $12,000 to $45,000 annually.
He concluded with the example of a medical center in South Carolina that through telepsychiatry has been able to reduce the average stay of patients from 36 hours to 4 hours. “Imagine the cost savings,” he said.