Improved Broadband Landscape Can Increase Rural Job Growth


Within the past week, telephone and Internet service providers accepted $9 billion in Connect America Fund subsidies for the construction and updates of broadband networks to rural areas of the U.S., which will take place over the next six years.

According to the Federal Communication Commission’s latest Broadband Progress Report, nearly 1 in 3 rural Americans lack access to broadband service.

“Today we are taking a significant step forward in narrowing the rural-urban digital divide,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a recent statement. “Access to modern broadband is critical to life in today’s society.”

At Digital Works, we are well aware that additional broadband availability in rural areas would increase job opportunities for residents. Digital Works program graduates take advantage of the many work-from-home employment opportunities available through our corporate employer partners. But for some program graduates, a lack of access to high-speed Internet at their home means they cannot work outside the Digital Works center or may not be eligible for advanced placement jobs.

Jennifer Sumpter lives in southern Ohio and does not have Internet access at her home. She was hired as a customer support representative immediately after graduating the Digital Works program. This is a job she could do from home. However, since she does not have Internet access, she needs to commute to the nearest Digital Works facility. Therefore, she is working very limited hours.

Robert Harris completed Digital Works training at the Logan, Ohio, facility in 2014. He lives nearby in Hocking County and needs a work-from-home opportunity due to the many hours he works to maintain a family farm and to assist his aging grandmother. Robert was recently selected as a candidate for an advanced position as an Internet gaming tech support agent. Unfortunately, he lost the opportunity to work from home due to insufficient Internet speeds available there. The job required 5 Mbps upload speed. According to Connect Ohio’s recent broadband maps, only 26% of Ohio households are served by at least 5 Mbps upload speeds. Robert accepted the position and commutes to the nearest Digital Works facility.

Elizabeth Shoemaker, also in southern Ohio, is a current Digital Works program trainee. She will soon graduate and was eager for the work-at-home opportunities available through the employer partnerships Digital Works maintains. She has made numerous phone calls to all of her local Internet providers only to hear they will not service her home. One provider gave her an estimate of $12,000 in order to extend the Internet line 1,100 feet–the distance from their nearest existing customer’s home to Elizabeth’s home. Elizabeth will have to commute 30 minutes each way to work at the Digital Works center in West Union.

Expanding Internet infrastructure in rural parts of the U.S. is quite expensive for providers. The subsidies offered through the FCC will alleviate some of that expense and enable providers to help close persisting broadband gaps. As expressed by Lindsay Shanahan, Executive Director for Connect Ohio, the Connect America Fund subsidies will dramatically alter the broadband landscape in Ohio and across the country.

For more information on the Connect America Fund and the six-year broadband upgrades and expansion, view the latest policy brief from our parent organization, Connected Nation: $9 billion in Connect America Fund subsidies accepted to serve over 4 million homes and businesses.

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