Broadband vital for economic development

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, July 13, 2011

by Amanda Jarratt

As Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce Gary Locke said: “Internet access is as important to our communications infrastructure today as reliable telephone service was a century ago. Creating an advanced network will promote economic development, expand educational opportunities and improve the availability and efficiency of government services. Expanding high-speed Internet access is critical to improving America’s economic competitiveness. Unless we use the 21st century tools at our disposal, America will never be as connected as it could be. And that connection is crucial for our economic future.”

Historically, southern Virginia and rural areas across the country have been underserved and had limited access to broadband technology. Rural residents live far from existing networks and do not represent enough potential profit for private broadband providers to break even on the infrastructure investments required to extend access to isolated communities.

As a result, a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding was made available for a Broadband Stimulus Program to expand broadband infrastructure, provide carrier class transport services to telecom providers and allow for greater broadband connectivity and reduced pricing in rural Virginia.

The business applications for broadband are extensive and valuable, allowing for innovation in providing customer service. Not only does access to faster broadband serve as an incentive to attract additional industry to our area; it opens up numerous opportunities for our existing businesses to grow, expand and compete in the international community.

Businesses can utilize real-time two-way teleconferencing, allowing them to expand beyond our local economy. Schools and universities can develop the distance learning opportunities and provide real-time video instruction at a much higher quality.

Hospitals and doctors’ offices can expand their business to include remote medical consultations, resource sharing and reduce travel time for patients. Agribusiness can use broadband to monitor field conditions, water and electric usage and access market information.

Recovery Act broadband projects help bring down the cost of private investment, attract Internet service providers to new areas, improve digital literacy among students and workers, and help create new opportunities in employment, education and entrepreneurship by wiring homes and businesses.

With new or increased broadband access, communities can compete on a level playing field to attract new businesses; schools can create distance learning opportunities; medical professionals can provide cost-efficient remote diagnoses and care; and business owners can expand the market for their products beyond their neighborhoods to better compete in the global economy.

The extension of broadband allows rural localities to overcome the distance and technology barrier by expanding connectivity between educational institutions, and attracting new businesses as well as the jobs that come with them.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, recently named by CNBC as the “Best State for Business,” is a leader in broadband policy and mapping. Secretary of Technology Jim Duffey recently announced the release of the new broadband availability map of Virginia.

This interactive map will be useful to business decision-makers, policy makers, government leaders, broadband providers and citizens to identify where broadband services are available, and in addition, highlight unserved or underserved areas across the state.

Franklin Southampton Economic Development is a strong advocate of the extension of broadband capabilities to the Franklin-Southampton community. The current project planned by Mid Atlantic Broadband Cooperative located in South Boston, which connects the Virginia Southside to Hampton Roads, provides our community with an additional infrastructure incentive to offer perspective business and industry.

As we work to expand and diversify our economic base, the potential business applications with increased broadband capability are numerous. Access to reliable and affordable broadband capabilities allows rural areas to remain connected and small businesses to compete in today’s global economy.

While access to broadband does not necessarily guarantee that you will attract 21st century jobs, having access allows your locality to remain competitive for advanced technological jobs.

AMANDA JARRATT is the manager of marketing for Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. and can be reached at 757-562-1958 or