Connected Nation, an advocacy group working to expand connectivity throughout the country, announced this week that it had found a link between broadband access and economic growth.
Researchers compared communities in Michigan that participated in the organization’s Connected program with the statewide average when it came to unemployment rate, median household income growth, in-migration and other factors.
“Connected Nation is not implying a direct causation between participation in the Connected program and their economic growth through this study,” noted director of research development Chris McGovern in a blog post explaining the findings. “Each community faced its own unique technological hurdles and had differing levels of success addressing those barriers.
“Connected Nation does believe, though, that by focusing on broadband access, adoption, and usage as economic development drivers, communities stand a better chance at competing and thriving in the years to come,” McGovern continued.
WHY IT MATTERS
The group’s Connected program involves working with a community to design a plan addressing the technology needs of residents, businesses and other establishments.
McGovern argued that this is not a fast process, and not every community will see the same results.
He flagged different and unique challenges, including infrastructure, educational efforts and limited tools at communities’ disposal.
“The impact of new technology on the community and its workforce may not be seen for years. As such, claiming any one enterprise as the sole cause of a benefit that is years in the making is challenging, if not impossible,” he wrote.
Still, because of the length of Michigan’s engagement with Connected Nation, the organization was able to compare various statistics from communities participating in the program with statewide averages between 2017 and 2019.
“No comparison will correlate participation in the Connected program with any one socioeconomic improvement rate. Still, positive changes among these communities would show how communities that focus on improving broadband technology access, adoption, and usage tend to see above-average improvements over time,” McGovern wrote.
Connected Nation found that the unemployment rate between 2017 and 2019 shrank faster in Connected communities, and the statewide decline in information-sector employment was less dramatic.
Connected communities saw an increase in population rate that was a third higher than the state average during that time period, and a faster rate of growth in median household incomes.
When it came to access to fixed broadband service, the increase in Connected communities “outpaced growth statewide by more than 400%,” wrote McGovern.
As McGovern pointed out, however, access alone is not enough.
“Improving broadband adoption may require a number of steps, depending on the needs of the community, from increased awareness of low-cost broadband programs to digital literacy training or assistance purchasing the devices needed to go online,” he said.
With that context he noted that broadband adoption in Connected communities did increase at a slightly faster rate than the state average.
“Though the difference is small, the fact that Connected communities are more rural than the rest of the state suggest that in many cases they had more obstacles to overcome,” he wrote.
“Broadband adoption in rural portions of the state tends to be lower, but in this case the Connected communities took a step toward closing that gap. Over time, it is possible that they will succeed in doing so,” he continued.
THE LARGER TREND
But as Connected Nation notes, infrastructure is only one part of the puzzle. Affordability is also a major, enduring hurdle for many families.
ON THE RECORD
“This study shows that in Michigan, communities that prioritized developing and promoting residential broadband outpaced the state average in terms of household incomes, employment growth, and in-migration,” wrote McGovern.
“These and other measurements of community well-being support Connected Nation’s argument that targeting efforts that will increase broadband access, adoption, and use will have long-term benefits, particularly for rural communities,” he continued.
“These benefits may not be seen in a matter of weeks, but this study shows that taking steps to prioritize technology can help communities grow today and prepare for the future.”
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