Sneak Peek at Broadband and Economic Development Data

Over the years, I’ve heard some rather impressive claims about the economic healing power of broadband. Talking to people in the trenches, though, I get a different sense of what we should expect and how we will achieve it.

Why is this important? Decision makers in local, state and federal government who don’t fully understand broadband or local economic development launch major broadband initiatives and funding programs involving millions, maybe billions, of dollars. Unfortunately, the results can be frustrating, insufficient, wasteful and generally less than desirable.

The solution? Start by going to the people who have the answers.

In 2006, every mayor who could walk and hold a microphone at the same time preached the gospel of broadband and economic salvation, telling constituents “we need muni WiFi to convince kids who’ve gone away to college to move back.” “Muni WiFi will help increase our convention business.” They’d proclaim these and other benefits with the force of conviction of true believers. And thus, great expectations were built.

However, my survey that year of economic development professionals revealed that bringing kids back after college and generating more convention business were low on the pros’ list of economic outcomes they received or expected to receive from broadband. Furthermore, fiber rather than WiFi networks were considered the best technology for impacting local economies. This survey was conducted in partnership with the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).

More recently, at all levels of government, politicians and administrators have latched onto the idea that a great economic benefit of broadband is helping people find jobs. Subsequently, governments will spend mini fortunes getting people connected to the Internet. It’s a valuable first step but it’s not where the greater goal lies.

Of the economic development pros surveyed in 2011, only 5% believe that finding a job is how broadband can best help individuals economically. 31% indicated improving job skills and professional development were the best target outcomes, while 25% replied that starting home-based businesses was the best. Reaching higher education levels and transitioning to a new industry or profession topped the list for 20% and 19% respondents respectively.

This Sunday (9/30) I’m presenting my 2012 survey report at IEDC’s annual conference that once again brings some local perspective to the question, how does broadband impact local economies. The report will be reinforce some trends we’ve seen the past couple of surveys and, as always, a surprise or two in the findings.

To give you a running start on digesting some of this year’s data, I prepared a short preliminary summary of several questions in the survey. Check this out and tell us what you think.

Talk to me about on-site workshops I provide for economic development teams and stakeholders to help them 1) understand the true local economic impact of broadband, and 2) harness this research data into effective broadband business strategies (510-387-4176).

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