Technology forces society to advance, adapt, and evolve. Whether we accept change with open arms or protest in discomfort, at the end of the day, innovation is eminent. Images of the Industrial Revolution seemed to capture the unstoppable force of technology perfectly: steel, machines, railroads, and massive technologies were the epitome of strength. Today, when we think of technology changing our lives we grapple with a metaphor less visually imposing and far more refined. The force of the Internet, however, is monstrous compared to a revolution marked by slow, heavy objects.
Broadband networks hide underground, hang above our heads, and transmit all around us. These networks keep us connected to our loved ones, allow us to learn new information with a few clicks, and turn each of us into a powerful consumer of any good or service we can imagine. Innovation is complex, but also very simple: we can do any of these activities from anywhere we want, as long as there’s a good connection.
Broadband has become an equalizer, a stabilizer, an instigator, and a replacement for our industries. An entrepreneur can embark on an e-commerce business from Salt Lake City or from the Navajo Nation in San Juan County. Small farming operations can now use online software to improve their efficiencies and become more competitive.
Over the next few years, researchers and businesses will develop ground breaking apps to leverage gigabit networks, including those in Utah. Rural health care providers are starting to utilize telehealth programs as a means to connect patients to specialists in large cities, and experts anticipate these services will dramatically change as new devices allow patients to transmit biometric readings instantly to their doctors. Can you envision an age when time consuming trips to the doctor are replaced with consultations from home?
Recent studies have attempted to quantify the economic impact of broadband on the U.S. Economy. The Hudson Institute estimates rural broadband alone contributed $24 billion to the economy in 2015. Impact was measured as both direct and indirect effects, with direct impact being the goods and services rural providers use and indirect impact being worker wages spent, and wages paid by supporting vendor industries. Locally, rural broadband contributed $158 million to Utah’s economy, and Utah’s rural telecoms and state vendor industries supported 591 jobs in 2015.
Another study from the Internet Innovation Alliance estimates that broadband and the information and communications technologies sectors contributed $1,019.2 billion to the economy in 2014, or 5.9% of the U.S. GDP. Combined, these sectors supported approximately 4,933,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2014.
Utah’s robust broadband infrastructure gives our state a competitive advantage. We consistently rank as having the fastest Internet speeds in the West, and average speeds in our rural communities outpace most around the country. Nationally, 83% of the population has access to connections that meet the Federal Communications Commission’s threshold for high-speed Internet (25 Mbps upload/3 Mpbs download). In comparison, 92.5% of residents in the Beehive State have access to these speeds.
The state also supports the Broadband Outreach Center out of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, a sign that leadership recognizes the impact broadband has on Utah’s economy. The Broadband Outreach Center supports providers across the state, and maps their coverage areas and speeds on two publicly available maps. The Residential Broadband Map can be found at broadband.utah.gov/map and the Economic Development Map can be found at Locate.utah.gov.
The Internet is the ultimate multiplier and new economic impacts are always growing. Each time a rural community gets high-speed Internet, new opportunities emerge to work remotely or explore e-commerce markets. Each time a new user is taught for the first time how to apply for work online, the U.S. workforce becomes stronger. The old adage about teaching a man to fish appeals to the economist in all of us, but what can happen if you give a man the Internet and teach him how to use it?