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Tennessee Study Finds Broadband Improves Rural Employment

Randy Sukow Jun 10, 2019

A study of all 95 counties in the state of Tennessee has concluded that access to high-speed broadband service “has a significant effect on county-level unemployment rates.” The study, titled “Broadband Speed and Unemployment Rates: Data and Measurement Issues,” also found evidence that the introduction of high-speed internet in rural areas has a greater affect on employment than in urban areas. However, the study could not determine whether job opportunities increase as broadband speeds get faster.

Researchers from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Oklahoma State University conducted the study, looking at Tennessee counties over the years 2011 to 2016. It traced employment figures as rural and urban areas began receiving high-speed broadband service (which the authors define as 100 Mbps or higher) and in some cases, ultra-high-speed or gigabit service. “It appears that rural counties with high speed broadband have roughly 0.38 percentage points lower unemployment rates than high-speed urban counties; rural counties with ultra-high-speed broadband might benefit even more,” the report finds.

However, the authors declined to say conclusively that gigabit service makes a serious difference in rural areas because the there were too few communities with ultra-high-speed service available (three as of 2015) to gather enough evidence. They said the question requires more study as the available data increases.

“Rural areas with faster-speed providers had a competitive advantage in finding employment opportunities for their residents, perhaps in jobs emphasizing telework or real-time interaction with urban firms,” the study found.  “A recent review of the literature emphasizes the variety of categories in which broadband could impact rural locations – including entrepreneurship, telehealth and ‘big data’ opportunities for agriculture."

The Fiber Broadband Association partially funded the study. “This study shows that high speed broadband can jumpstart local economies by lowering unemployment rates and creating new opportunities,” the association’s President and CEO Lisa Youngers said in a press release.

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