Why Faster Broadband? Well... consider the case of Cedar Falls

Victoria Compton, executive director of San Juan County Economic Development Council.  - Contributed photo
Victoria Compton, executive director of San Juan County Economic Development Council.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Victoria Compton

Before we start on the why of broadband, let’s address the following: what does the word “broadband” mean, anyway? In general “broadband” refers to fast Internet connections.

Last year, the FCC defined “fast” as anything over 4Mbps (megabits per second) download speed, and 1 Mbps upload speed. Megabits per second refers to the speed that data can transmit to and from your computer.

Download is the data that comes to your computer via the Internet (e.g., you download an email or watch a YouTube video), upload is the data that you send out via the Internet (e.g., you email mom a snapshot of the kids).

The bad news: most of San Juan County has access only to a maximum of 1.5Mbps. Average in the U.S., as of April 2011? 5.1Mbps.

The FCC wants 100Mbps nationwide within nine years.

While most of us enjoy the slower-paced life of the islands, this is one area where slower is not better. So what could faster broadband mean for our economy and our lives here in San Juan County?

Let’s take a look at some of the top benefits of broadband improvement:High-speed broadband has been shown clearly to be an economic driver. In communities across the country — and the globe — economies with faster broadband thrive. Small towns and counties across the U.S. are making the investment to connect — and compete — with the rest of the world.

An example: in 1994, the community of Cedar Falls, Iowa, decided to invest in building a high-speed fiber network. In 2004, they studied how their community had done economically over the previous decade, compared to a neighboring community of similar demographics that had not invested in broadband.

Just a few years after the network was in place, real estate values went up and stayed up, tax rolls increased, unemployment went down, dozens of new companies formed, and several companies relocated to the area — without the loss of a single existing business to relocation. New construction, which had traditionally been about half that of the neighboring community, became twice that over the same 10-year period.

Broadband raises all ships — students have access to more educational opportunities; workers can garner high-wage, high-growth jobs; businesses have better access to their customers and to an expanded marketplace; access to medical specialists increases exponentially.

Expansion of broadband-driven sectors will mitigate the cyclicality of our economy, which is currently driven primarily by construction, tourism and real estate — all recession-prone industries.

With the compelling evidence of the benefits of improved community broadband, the San Juan County Council awarded funding to the San Juan County Economic Development Council to start working to get faster broadband here. The EDC is currently studying broadband in the county as it exists, and what businesses and residents need from broadband to better thrive.

In partnership with our study, the San Juan Island Community Foundation is researching potential funding sources and OPALCO is investigating how broadband improvements could benefit public safety and better serve their members.

Help the EDC move our county toward improved high-speed Internet by taking a survey. Please visit www.sjcbroadband.com for more information.

— Victoria Compton is executive director of the San Juan County Economic Development Council


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