America is in the midst of a “rural renaissance,” thanks to unprecedented investment in broadband, said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, in an address at the NTCA Smart Rural Community Live event in Fort Lauderdale yesterday.
Bloomfield moderated a panel discussion about rural broadband with Kathryn de Wit, project director for the Broadband Access Initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts; Will McIntee, White House senior advisor for public engagement; and Andrew Berke, Rural Utilities Service administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Every dollar invested in broadband yields four dollars in benefits, said de Wit. Pew Charitable Trusts has been closely following state broadband initiatives for several years and was instrumental in reshaping federal policy to give more autonomy to individual states in determining broadband needs and how to address them.
States were spending money not just to get everyone online but because if they didn’t, entire towns would die, de Wit observed.
As the U.S. begins to roll out the $42.5 billion BEAD rural broadband funding program, de Wit encouraged NTCA’s rural broadband provider members who attended the conference to meet with their state broadband offices to help in shaping the five-year plans that each state’s broadband office must submit.
Broadband has the potential to enable people to “live wherever they want,” said Berke. More and more employers are finding that employees’ jobs can be done from home, and communities that can offer good broadband are well positioned to attract people wanting to live in a rural environment and work from home.
Make your local community distinctive; make people want to live in your community and you will spur economic growth, said Berke.
Another important benefit of broadband is that it can help motivate young people to remain in the community. When young people have high-speed broadband, they can have the same experiences with Tik Tok, Instagram and other social media as people in urban areas do and will feel less need to leave their home community, noted McIntee.
“Access to high-speed broadband unlocks so many opportunities,” he said.
Anna Collins contributed to this report