Economic Development Depends on Smart Broadband Investments
Guest Blog by: Comcast
Economic development is a priority for chambers of commerce – and few things spur more economic development than broadband. As states prepare to spend billions of federal dollars on broadband, chambers can ensure this funding is strategically targeted to spark the greatest growth.
Chamber leaders know how essential broadband is. That was true before the pandemic, but the past three years drove it home. Your members suddenly had to grapple with unprecedented demand for e-commerce, learn search engine optimization (SEO) and adapt to employees who worked from home.
Dealing with this sudden shift was difficult. Yet the situation was made even harder by the fact that broadband internet is not universally accessible, adopted or understood. About eight million Americans don’t have access to fixed broadband, while 76 million do not subscribe even though they have networks deployed to where they live. What’s more, tens of millions of Americans lack the digital skills to make the most of broadband, including many business owners and employees.
These realities explain the digital divide. Looking back, this hurt businesses throughout the pandemic, and looking ahead, these challenges will continue to hold back growth. Companies of all sizes would profoundly benefit from getting everyone on broadband and educating them on how best to use it.
The federal government agrees. The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law devoted nearly $65 billion to new broadband funding. Of that, $42 billion will be parceled out to states beginning this summer, which should go a long way to closing the three facets of the digital divide – access, adoption and digital skilling. However, success will only materialize if investment decisions are made wisely. Some want to spend this money on broadband infrastructure where broadband infrastructure already exists. The better approach is to tackle access, adoption and digital skilling simultaneously in a comprehensive strategy.
First, close the access gap by building out broadband for the eight million Americans who don’t have it. The vast majority of the country— over 94%— has access to broadband networks. The gaps are mostly in rural areas, and connecting them will create more growth opportunities for local businesses.
Second, close the adoption gap. That means helping income-constrained Americans take advantage of federal subsidies for broadband service through the Affordable Connectivity Program while helping others overcome barriers like language, a lack of devices and digital literacy. If we get all 76 million non-adopters connected, your members will have millions of new customers and we’ll see new businesses.
Finally, close the skills gap by investing in digital skills training and workforce development. We can help every American learn how to fully participate in the digital economy. The National Skills Coalition reports that while over 90% of job listings require digital skills, nearly a third of Americans don’t have them. Yet workers with digital skills could earn up to 45% more. Digitally-focused workforce development can help businesses master e-commerce, SEO and other needs, ultimately strengthening their regional and global competitiveness.
Chambers can help their state spend its share of the $42 billion wisely. As states form broadband offices for this purpose, the only way to make sure is by engaging with these decision-makers. Chamber leaders know the specific needs of their members and communities. Sharing those insights will shape these investments. Comcast is ready to partner with you. For more information or help with engaging in your state, please email us at EconomicDevelopment@comcast.com.
Economic development depends on broadband. That’s only getting more true, and with chamber leaders’ leadership and advocacy, we can enter a new era of growth and opportunity.
As a media and technology company, Comcast is committed to using the power of its platforms, people and reach to create positive change and a more equitable society.