Entrepreneurship in Rural Communities

Rural Americans want leaders who help middle-class communities to plan and prosper over the long-term – not opportunists who reap the rewards for themselves, leaving nothing for the people who do the sowing.

Tom Vilsack

Every once in awhile, I get an email from somebody who is interested in sharing information with Strengthening Brand America readers.  Rose Haywood is a freelance writer and student with a focus on rural technology and other internet initiatives.  Rose sent me an email sharing a post on the impact of interactive technology on catalyzing sustainable rural economic growth.  Rose does a nice job describing how the digital divide makes it challenging for rural communities to reach their full potential.

My experience in working with Ohio’s Appalachian Region has allowed me to directly observe the problem Rose describes.  One key to unlocking the economic potential of our Nation’s Appalachian Region and other rural communities is investing in the creation of a world-class telecommunications capability for residents and businesses to succeed.

I think you are going to like Rose’s guest post.  Please take a moment to provide a comment.  As a student, I have no doubt Rose will appreciate any feedback that contributes to the educational value of her post.

The Difficulties of Entrepreneurship Without Rural Broadband

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently announced the launch of the global partnership Internet.org. Only 2.7 billion people, or one-third the population of the world, have Internet access. Various companies, including Facebook, Nokia, Opera and Samsung, have joined together to bring Internet access to the other 5 billion people of the world.

Similarly, CenturyLink has committed to bring broadband Internet to more than 92,000 homes and businesses in rural areas. Through funding from the Connect America Fund (CAF) of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), CenturyLink will provide in areas where broadband is too cost prohibitive for residents.

The need to end the digital divide

CAF is one step closer to ending the digital divide that exists in the United States between rural and urban areas. Without high-speed Internet, there is an inequality in education, healthcare, economic development and other opportunities.

Without broadband, the economy suffers

According to the FCC, small businesses and consumers without access to broadband Internet cannot be a part of the $8 trillion global Internet economy. No access to high-speed Internet ultimately limits available jobs for residents in these rural areas, and therefore, a thriving economy is hard to produce.

The reasons small businesses need broadband access

The challenges of starting a small business without broadband Internet lead to little opportunity for economic development. Most businesses, whether in the IT field or not, require high-speed Internet. Businesses need broadband to:

  • Sell products online
  • Produce a website for consumers
  • Interact with customers on social media websites
  • Allow communication between employees through e-mail

The list does not stop there. Whether it is a bakery or an IT business, every business, big or small, needs access to high-speed Internet. If a town does not offer broadband, an entrepreneur will likely choose to start a business in another area where it is available.

The FCC notes that high-speed Internet allows for small businesses to be created anywhere, not just in urban markets. With broadband, a business in a rural town can reach customers and sell products in states across the country and overseas.

Rural towns’ economies can prosper with high-speed Internet

Despite the evident need for broadband access in rural areas, 18 million Americans, including entrepreneurs, could not access broadband in July 2012. Ultimately, rural areas need access to broadband in order to start small businesses, to create jobs and to earn more profit, allowing for economic prosperity.

Rose Haywood is an Internet tech blogger, business marketing student and advocate for equal access broadband initiatives. She resides for the time being right outside of Atlanta, GA, but has been known to wander. You can connect with Rose via email or twitter.

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9 Comments so far

  1. […]   […]

  2. Graham Robertson

    September 25, 2013

    Ed, what’s most interesting is that I’m seeing third world countries (eg. Nigeria) investing in mobile as a competitive advantage for the country. There is debate right now in Toronto as to making it a wifi city, and I really do believe that while this cuts out profits for providers, it would be a huge coup for a city….a lot like Starbucks did by being so far ahead of others. I still think of “free wifi, go to starbucks”.

    As for rural, the US has a much larger percentage of their population in rural settings than the other G8 countries. For instance US #s i saw were 40% small town/rural compared to 20% in Canada. In the big picture that leaves the US at a potential competitive disadvantage.

  3. Edward

    September 25, 2013

    Graham – Great points. An other way to frame it is to determine the value of providing companies in your community a competitive edge through providing access to the world via cutting edge telecommunication capability. Since the world is heading toward toward solutions that require greater and greater bandwidth, it makes sense that having access will increasingly become a differentiator. Rural US communities will need to figure out a way to address the challenge as a Region rather than an individual community. That is the strategy Finland utilized to become one of the world’s most advanced telecommunication countries. It is now a positive point of differentiation for the tiny nation. I think innovative approaches like you are highlighting should get serious consideration.

  4. Rollie Cole

    September 25, 2013

    Note also that broadband enables those in remote areas to participate in services from less remote areas. They can get medical advice, repair advice, tutoring, arts instruction, music instruction, sports instruction, apply for permits, file taxes, and all sorts of other services where otherwise they would have to “go to town” or the service provider would have to make a house call. City residents should realize that any tax support to extending connections to rural areas means less cost to work with the non-city residents than would be the case without such connections. It is to my benefit in Austin to have people in a small town like Johnson City online.
    Rollie Cole, PhD, JD
    Founder, Fertile Ground for Startups, Small Firms, and Nonprofits
    “Think Small to Grow Big”
    Author of WHOLESALE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT http://preview.tinyurl.com/wholesaleeconomics

  5. James Glover

    September 25, 2013

    Communities with broadband helps to level the economic development playing field. High speed connectivity enables smaller communities, regardless of where they are located, to attract new businesses, new residents and visitors. People have a choice where to live today and affordable broadband access is a key factor in making their relocation decision.

  6. Dena Bley

    September 26, 2013

    Wonderful article, as I sit here listening to my rooster crow and work at the same time. I have work from the convenience of my home for three years now. While it is a bit of a hassle every year, I call my internet provider and beg them to provide better internet access down my road. I am literally one road away from having this capability. I enjoyed reading this article and all the comments, I was unaware the issue was this big. I work for one of the largest companies in the world and I pay a much higher price just to be able to get an “ok” connection, to do so. Granted I could move to town, but I shouldn’t have to. I love the country, always have. While my neighbors will be harvesting their fields today, I will be harvesting my reports and would like to do so as fast as my colleagues “in town”.

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  8. Wilson Bowling

    October 11, 2013

    Good article! I wish you could have gone to the 21st Century Infrastructure panel at IEDC. A good strategy for some communities is to install the fiber optic cable themselves. Though this can be quite in investment, this is a way to get high speed internet to government buildings, hospitals, businesses and the public, and it would be an incentive for a private carrier to serve the area. Danville, VA was the case study on this.

    Of course, you will need to get the public behind this effort and this can be harder in rural communities where many do not know the advantages of broadband. If you need any help with ideas on educational tactics to promote broadband access and usage, please feel free to contact me. wbowling@kimballne.org

  9. Edward

    October 12, 2013

    Wilson – I completely agree on the need for communities to prioritize staying current on their telecommunications infrastructure. When I give talks/training, I position the internet as the way many businesses get their product/service to market. Consequently, for a growing segment of commerce telecommunications is as important as a community’s transportation infrastructure and needs to be strategically considered as such. I too wish I had attended the IEDC session. But, Conferences are all about making choices on your learning opportunities. It would be fantastic if you could author another comment and share your three biggest learnings from the session. That way, everybody will become a little smarter. Crowd sourcing knowledge is a good thing 🙂 Finally, thanks for reading the post and please explore the rest of the http://www.strengtheningbrandamerica.com website. I have tried to put a wealth of knowledge at the professions finger tips.

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