Does Broadband Matter for Rural Entrepreneurs?

Broadband and Rural Entrepreneurship“Entrepreneurial growth can exist in rural communities, though it requires more than just broadband.”

This quote comes from a recent article on Broadband Availability and Rural Entrepreneurship, published by the folks at SSTI. (Heads up, they’re having a conference at the top of November. Track the conversation on Twitter and follow @SSTI_org.)

No one would agree more than Amy Kuhlers, program manager of IASourceLink. Just this past week, we had the opportunity to attend their Entrepreneurial Roundtable, a quarterly gathering of private and public entrepreneurial service providers who help Iowa entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

Topics that came up in that meeting centered on how can Iowa:

  • improve access to capital
  • open opportunities for women and minorities
  • better reach and connect rural entrepreneurs with business-building resources
  • build a skilled workforce
  • help manufacturers build better business models
  • connect homegrown entrepreneurs with resources to strengthen their businesses
  • tell the Iowa entrepreneurship story
  • celebrate our entrepreneurs (a query, by the way, that Iowa has solved in spades)

The message underpinning the conversations around what entrepreneurs need: access and connectivity. And broadband is an issue that sits at the very core.

“Broadband is a critical step to connecting entrepreneurs, especially rural entrepreneurs, to the larger entrepreneurial community. It starts to level the playing field, helping Iowa entrepreneurs better access resources across the state and compete, really anywhere, in the world,” says Amy.

So why does broadband continue to be important?

We posed that question and a couple of others to Amy, whose previous work with Connect Iowa put her on-the-ground and directly in front of the issue. (Also check out Connected Nation for more information on broadband access across the nation.)

Here’s what she said about what broadband means to entrepreneurship and what her experience on-the-ground tells us about rural entrepreneurship and broadband adoption and availability. 

What is the impact of broadband on entrepreneurship in your region?

Having access to high-speed Internet for the majority of businesses in Iowa is crucial.  Iowa is fortunate in that we have many great broadband providers who have been able to update their networks to fiber, but we still have gaps in availability.  Some of this is in our rural areas, but we also have areas within our metros that suffer from poor Internet service.  Actually, some of our most remote areas of the state have excellent broadband coverage.

What does that impact look like?

Broadband accessibility allows businesses in Iowa to compete globally.  We are fortunate in Iowa to have very low unemployment, so it can be difficult for businesses to find employees with the technical skills needed. Broadband provides opportunities to tap into employees located outside of the state, or country, as an option.  I just visited with a web services business in Cedar Falls who now has several employees located in other parts of the state and outside of the state.  Broadband access provides employers with the option to find the right talent and provides employees with the freedom to choose to live in smaller communities where there are fewer jobs, and yet benefit from working for companies in urban areas.

Another example is our growing telepharmacy industry. Many of our rural communities have started losing their local pharmacies for economic and population reasons. New laws passed this year now allow for customers to meet via video, with pharmacists working in larger communities, for their consult on medications.  Medications can be distributed by a pharmacy tech on site, saving residents from having to drive many miles for their medications.

Can you point to any initiatives in play that you think will help?

Governor Terry Branstad last year passed the Connect Every Acre bill that may offer incentives to broadband providers to buildout fiber networks in areas of need.  Additionally, our state’s Internet service providers continue to be proactive in planning broadband expansion projects where feasible.  

Image: Unsplash