Whether you're a tech entrepreneur, manage a large industrial operation, or you specialize as an artisan who sells niche products online, fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is now a critical utility for your business. A recent SpotLight article from the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) and hosted by WRAL.com, shines a light on the impact of reliable broadband on rural businesses, residents, and local economies.
NCLM provides multiple examples supporting the theory that lack of high-quality connectivity and access to digital tools results in unrealized potential — in jobs, home-based businesses, and small business revenue. A 2019 study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggests that 66 percent of rural small businesses struggle with poor Internet or mobile phone connectivity.
Sheila Pope and her husband — both attorneys — have no Internet access at home and when their daughter returns home from college, she must make the trek into town to scope out a reliable connection.
"The trend is for more and more online work. She [Pope's daughter] would have to come to our office or go to the coffee shop in town. We got unlimited data through our cell phone provider so that we could use our phones as a hotspot, but that's unreliable and sometimes the connection would go out and she would lose all her work. It's very problematic," Pope said. "People are not going to want to come here to live and businesses aren't going to come here when they can't get what they need to do business in this digital age."
NCLM spoke with Aaron Carter, director of marketing for Rhino Shelf, a storage shelving manufacturer. Only recently has the company been able to subscribe to Internet access faster than 20 Mbps:
"Broadband is so important because no matter what your business is, efficiency is the bottom line. It doesn't matter if you have the greatest product in the world; if you're not manufacturing it efficiently, that's a loss. If you're not selling or marketing it efficiently, you're losing," Carter said. "I grew up in Sampson County. I have friends there who run businesses and the way they do business is old-fashioned because they don't have fast Internet."
He continued, "There's an assumption that if someone's in a rural area that their ideas might not have a certain appeal or their products might not have a certain level of sophistication. That's completely not true. People with spectacular ideas who live in rural areas — it's worth it to our state to give those people a voice or an avenue to get their ideas out there."
We wrote about Optima Bio in July 2019; the company is experimenting with pilot projects to convert hog waste into energy. In order to operate, the five farms where the pilot projects are located need access to broadband for remote monitoring. CEO Mark Maloney notes that, as innovation becomes more integrated into the agriculture industry, the need for rural broadband will continue to expand.
"As Optima grows our projects and presence in eastern North Carolina, reliable, robust and affordable Internet access will continue to be a constraint and likely an increasing one as we require more bandwidth," Maloney said. "As for other ag business, I know some large players have to find special solutions."
Set Them Free
Mayor Bob Scott from the mountain community of Franklin describes how residents complain about poor Internet access speeds. He's convinced that broadband in Franklin would help attract more people to the town.
As local communities in North Carolina have known for years, large monopoly ISPs aren’t willing to make investments in rural areas to bring connectivity up to speed. NCLM points out that the surest way forward will be to change state law that bars local communities from investing in infrastructure that allows public-private partnerships.
That reality is why local, state and business leaders have increasingly called for policy solutions that would bring to the table resources of not only private providers, but also nonprofits and local governments. But even with that recognition and state legislators agreeing in 2019 to free up electric cooperatives to bring their resources to bear, legal hurdles remain for local governments.
"We have to allow legislation that will allow municipalities to enter into partnerships," [Mayor] Scott said. "I think the legislature needs to give towns more local rule to deal with the Internet and the lack of Internet services."
Read the full article here and check out this short marketing video from NCLM: