As broadband reaches more areas of the country, rural and agriculture-based communities are searching for better ways to maximize its local economic development potential. On Wednesday [May 9], providers and consumers of rural telecommunications services told the U.S. House Small Business Subcommittee on Rural & Urban Entrepreneurship that, while these technologies can increase investment and employment in their communities, they are not yet being used to their full potential.
"Many rural communities across the country are struggling to remain competitive," said subcommittee Chairman Heath Shuler [D-N.C.], elected to the 110th Congress last Nov. 7. "By harnessing new technologies, we can create new opportunities, improving the way businesses -- especially, farms -- operate, and reverse this trend."
Broadband technologies have proven to be a key component of rural communities' growth and prosperity, facilitating partnerships, creating online infrastructure, and expanding the market for goods and services.
For farmers, high-speed Internet technology that helps control costs and optimize production -- such as remote temperature monitoring -- can be especially important, because the industry operates with low profit margins. Broadband can also be instrumental in creating networks of entrepreneurs that can increase employment and spur additional investment.
Although this technology has reached 99 percent of ZIP codes, these benefits are only beginning to emerge in rural America.
"As today's economy changes, so do the needs of this nation's entrepreneurs," Chairman Shuler said. "Expanding the economic benefits of broadband is one way to help this nation's farmers and rural small businesses, increase the efficiency of their operations, and, in turn, support economic growth."
During the hearing, suppliers and consumers of rural broadband outlined strategies that use this technology to expand rural economic development. These innovative community partnerships, industry co-ops and economic synergies use broadband to accelerate economic activities in creative, scalable ways.
Furthermore, witnesses identified policies that can help more areas implement these programs -- including strengthening of the Universal Service Fund and Broadband Utility Service. By reducing costs and speeding the uptake of emerging technologies, these steps will promote the expansion of community and economic development initiatives.
"As today's discussion demonstrated, broadband can transform rural communities by bringing entrepreneurs together, and connecting small-business owners to customers," said Chairman Shuler. "This technology is exciting because we are still creating the new ways to use broadband for development in districts like mine. More needs to be invested to ensure this innovation and the development it encourages to reach all Americans."
Wednesday's hearing continues the committee's examination of rural economic development issues. Last week, the committee began a series on renewable fuels, with a look at how those technologies are encouraging development in rural America.
Click here to read to prepared testimony from Wednesday's hearing.
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