Helping communities connect digitally | New
Adopting broadband has the potential to stimulate economic growth and the quality of life of a community. But in much of Missouri, especially in rural areas, high-bandwidth wired lines to connect households and businesses do not exist.
Helping more Missouri communities connect digitally was the topic of a recent webinar hosted by the University of Missouri System Broadband Initiative team.
The team announced the Digitally Connected Communities Guide, a collection of resources designed to help communities create action plans to expand broadband access. The guide includes informational videos, an internet speed test, and data and mapping tools to identify funding needs, assets, and opportunities.
MU Extension faculty will work with stakeholder groups in selected communities this fall to facilitate their progress through an online course based on the guide. Community extension teachers will be able to connect stakeholders with external resources and expertise. The process described in the guide results in a written proposal to expand broadband access through public-private partnerships.
Participant groups have not yet been identified, but they could range from entire counties to unincorporated communities, said Marc McCarty, an assistant professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a member of the broadband initiative team.
A community-driven process is essential, says Alan Spell, assistant professor of extension in agricultural and applied economics. Even with significant public funding, Internet service providers will not extend physical infrastructure to unserved communities if they do not believe they will have the customers to make it profitable.
“There are a lot of moving parts that have to come together,” says Spell.
Spell is co-author of “Economic Benefits of Expanding Broadband in Select Missouri Counties,” written with Sarah Low, director of Exceed, MU Extension’s regional economic and entrepreneurial development program. The new report projects the 10-year economic impact of expanded broadband adoption in three Missouri counties: Bollinger, Henry and Nodaway, which represent a range of population sizes and existing levels of broadband access.
In Bollinger County, southeast Missouri, only about one in five households has fixed-line broadband access, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission. (The FCC defines broadband as download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and download speeds of at least 3Mbps.)
Increasing broadband adoption in the county by 20 percentage points could increase annual GDP (gross domestic product) growth by 64% from 2014-2019 levels, representing a gain of $ 23 million in 10 years, Spell said.
McCarty noted during the webinar that these economic benefits would not materialize if people only used broadband to stream movies and play games online.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using broadband for movies and games, Spell says, and having broadband-based entertainment can make a community more engaging. But the gains in terms of job growth, income and GDP come from applications such as telemedicine and expanded opportunities related to education, employment and business, he said. Most of these benefits will emerge gradually, although the construction of physical infrastructure will produce immediate temporary gains in construction jobs and related economic activity.
The Exceed team also published “Broadband Technologies: A Primer on Access and Solutions”, an eight-page non-technical overview for community stakeholders.
For more than 100 years, the University of Missouri Extension has extended academic knowledge beyond the campus to all counties in the state. In doing so, extension has strengthened families, businesses and communities. MU extension news: extension.missouri.edu/nouvelles