Rural communities are rapidly learning the necessity of broadband access as a path to a brighter future. Businesses rely on broadband to reach customers and interact with suppliers. Schools assign homework that can only be completed on the internet. Health care increasingly requires a high-speed hookup.
Lifestyle considerations are huge, too. Many people middle-age and younger expect to play games online; without broadband, a prime form of recreation is out of reach and a community is ruled out as a hometown. Eighty-three years after passage of the Rural Electrification Act, broadband is the new power line.
What many leaders of rural areas have yet to grasp, however, is the potential of broadband to attract high-income people to their communities, even if their workplaces are far away.
Contrary to a popular narrative, not everyone wants to live in urban lights. Or in suburbs with a Starbucks around the corner. A wishful slice of the population still prefers small towns and the countryside. The dream of a tight-knit community or a homestead with plenty of elbow room warms hearts.
What if these dreamers could move from metro areas to rural environments and keep their well-paying jobs? Their solid incomes can be a shot in the arm for merchants, schools and the built environment—imagine the resources for renovations and new construction.
Getting broadband right can make rural living a real possibility for highly talented employees whose jobs require access. Companies increasingly allow talent to work remotely, and the practical difference between working a few miles or thousands of miles away is shrinking quickly.
Lots of other factors must be in place for a rural community to attract new people with broadband. Schools must be top-notch. Communities need to spruce up and show pride of place.
But governments are offering unprecedented opportunities for rural areas to take part in the economy and social life other Americans have enjoyed for years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a broadband grant program. In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb is putting $100 million forward. And in the spirit of their founding, rural electric cooperatives are jumping in with programs.
There is no better time for rural areas to connect and position themselves as great places for people who moved away to college and never came home. Or who love an area and want to move there…if only they could keep their jobs.
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