Broadband—high-speed internet that is always on, is faster than traditional dial-up access, and allows multiple users to communicate simultaneously—is becoming integral to everyday life.
According to a recent Granite State Poll, one in four New Hampshire households still relies on dial-up internet access or other forms of internet not classified as broadband by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Rates of access are lowest in rural counties like Cheshire, Grafton, and Coös. Tens of thousands of individuals, businesses, and institutions in the state can’t realize the full potential of the internet, or the social and economic benefits it provides.
Why Broadband Matters
Broadband and Economic Development. The link between broadband and economic development is clear in economic literature, principally that employment has grown faster in regions that have better internet access (Czernick et al., 2011; Kolko, 2012; Stenberg et al., 2009). In fact, from 2009-2010, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) invested roughly $3.5 billion to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure, with an estimated economic impact of more than $10 billion to the economy (BEA, 2010). This impact was partially in the form of jobs created to deploy the infrastructure, but more importantly, in jobs created or sustained by firms that depend on broadband infrastructure and on employment in the sectors that provide services to those firms.
In New Hampshire, where the broadband penetration rate in 2010 was estimated to be a little more than 70%—which was around 6% higher than the national average—the economy was less impacted by the 2008 recession than other New England states and job growth since has been comparatively strong. According to a 2010 report by the Brookings Institution, much of this economic resilience may be attributed to the state’s comparatively high rate of broadband penetration. In fact, it is estimated that the broadband penetration increased by approximately 4-8% over the past five years, adding over $2 billion dollars to the economy in direct and indirect impacts and resulting in thousands of jobs. This technology-driven job growth has helped to mitigate job losses in other sectors, such as construction, manufacturing, and retail.
In spite of New Hampshire’s overall advantage with respect to broadband, there are still regions where broadband access is limited, such as the Connecticut River Valley, Lakes Region, and North Country. It is difficult to ascertain to what degree lack of broadband infrastructure has impacted economic growth in these regions, but it is clear that areas without broadband are slower to recover from the economic recession.
Many areas lacking broadband were historically dependent on manufacturing. In such areas, the manufacturing jobs do not appear to have been replaced by jobs in other sectors. In other parts of the state where broadband is present—including the Seacoast and Merrimack Valley—manufacturing jobs have largely been replaced by jobs in sectors that rely heavily on broadband infrastructure, such technology, finance, and education.
That is why many rural regions have laid infrastructure to help businesses and households to connect to affordable, high-speed internet. It is key to their success.
Broadband and Education. A 2013 Pew Internet and American Life report indicates that 93% of teens have access to a computer at home. An earlier Pew poll found that students without access are more likely to have more limited career opportunities after completing high school. Another study reveals that internet-connected high school graduates are twice as likely to go to college as those who are not on-line (NARUC Conference, Washington, D.C. February 16, 2010).
So how does this scenario play out in rural, under-served parts of New Hampshire? Consider that the North Country has nearly twice the high school drop-out rate as the south and central parts of the state. While lack of broadband access in the North Country is not the only factor contributing to a relatively high dropout rate, it highlights a potential competitive disadvantage for students who want to go on to college or secure living-wage jobs. The reality is that students without broadband internet do not have the same learning opportunities as those that do, including access to national curriculum, ability to connect to peers and instructors via video interactive tutoring, and access to interactive learning tools and information.
Broadband and Health. Broadband offers opportunities to simultaneously improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs. The internet has changed the way that many people access critical services, such as health care. In the age of high definition and real-time video-streaming, it is now possible for doctors to interact with their patients for preliminary consultation in a timelier manner and without the transportation challenge that some patients, particularly those in more rural, remote regions, face every time they need to see a doctor. In fact, for a large percentage of cases, preliminary consults via video eliminate the need for doctor visits, ultimately saving time for both patient and doctor. In other cases, doctors can refer patients to leading experts who may be located anywhere in the world and with broadband technology they can access and review a patient’s files. Such opportunities can greatly improve diagnosis and treatment.
In addition to improving the delivery of health care to patients, broadband internet can also increase the efficiency and effectiveness of recording patient information using powerful new medical record systems. More importantly, once such systems are established, high-speed internet enables other care providers who have authorization to access critical patient information. This will ultimately save lives and reduce incorrect diagnoses or treatments.
Broadband is Life Changing. While there are compelling data that show the existing and potential economic, educational, and health impacts of broadband, fast and reliable internet is integral to many facets of modern-day life. Broadband has transformed the way we get local, regional, and world news, how we find information about the services we use in our communities, how we shop, how we entertain ourselves, and the way we connect with friends and peers. Who would have thought that both Facebook and YouTube would become the most prevalent forms of media in the history of the world, each with over a billion users? Broadband levels many previous inequalities that existed in peoples’ access to services and information, but it also creates a new divide between those who have broadband and those who do not.