Broadband access is playing a larger role in our lives every day. No wonder; broadband offers significant benefits to both quality of life and quality of place.
When we speak of benefits to quality of life, we’re really talking about how broadband Internet benefits the individual, a topic we wrote about last week. These benefits include things like education, healthcare, aging in place and telecommuting. Although each of these offer distinct benefits to the individual, they also benefit society. For example, telecommuting is more convenient for individuals, but it also benefits society by keeping cars off the road and reducing CO2 Emissions.
Broadband access’ benefits to quality of place go way beyond the benefits to the individual, however. Here are a few examples of how broadband access contributes to a better world.
Societal Benefits of Broadband Access
E-Government & Civic Participation
What makes government work as it should is transparency and public engagement. Today’s technology allows live streaming of municipal, state and federal proceedings – either in real time, or more importantly on demand. Government websites and social media provide a continuous stream of information to the public as well as forums for public participation. Citizens can pay taxes on-line, register vehicles, procure hunting, fishing, and pet licenses, and with the click of a button, communicate via email with elected officials and staff. Many government entities have employed a messaging system that allows citizens to use any smart device to alert officials about everything from dangerous potholes to emergency situations they might witness.
Chapter 16 on the National Broadband Plan addresses the importance of broadband to public safety. The plan suggests that “Broadband can help public safety personnel prevent emergencies and respond swiftly when they occur. Broadband can also provide the public with new ways of calling for help and receiving emergency information.”
The plan lists 4 major benefits of broadband internet:
- Allow first-responders anywhere in the nation to send and receive critical voice, video and data to save lives, reduce injuries and prevent acts of crime and terror
- Ensure all Americans can access emergency services quickly and send and receive vital information, regardless of how it is transmitted
- Revolutionize the way Americans are notified about emergencies and disasters so they receive information vital to their safety
- Reduce threats to e-commerce and other Internet-based applications by ensuring the security of the nation’s broadband networks
Energy and Environment
Transportation and power generation are 2 of the biggest impacts on global warming. Both Smart Grid technology for electricity generation and distribution and metering, and improved transportation management can develop efficiencies that will greatly reduce emissions and ultimately the carbon footprint. Hi-speed internet connectivity is integral in both cases.
Particularly during economic downturns, libraries become a haven for the public, providing computers and internet access, books and movies for inexpensive entertainment, and assistance with on-line job searching. Regardless of the economic climate, libraries have become automated to the point that users can download digital media from home, reserve and renew books on-line and access myriad web-based enrichment and educational tools.
Economic Growth & Quality Jobs
There is much data indicating that hi-speed or broadband internet will improve the economic climate. Not surprising, according to some studies, the greatest positive economic impact is likely to be realized in rural underserved communities. This assertion is quite logical when one considers population density, income and education demographics, and the current economy in rural America. Rural America, simply put, has the most room for economic growth. Conversely, rural America faces some serious challenges to overcome before the economic benefits of broadband internet can be realized.
The “Chicken and the Egg” Problem with Rural Broadband
As you can see, broadband internet benefits us in many ways, however a closer look at the challenges of rural communities — Digital Literacy and Bridging the Digital Divide — presents the classic: ‘which comes first ….. the chicken or the egg’ dilemma.
Digital Literacy is a key factor as one considers improved internet access to any location. While digital access can be an invaluable asset, it’s of no use to people who don’t or can’t use it to its ultimate potential.
In Rural Communities, Bridging the Digital Divide is a challenge as population density, economics, and geography play a large part in the fact that rural communities tend to be under served where hi-speed internet access is concerned.