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If You Build It, Will They Come? Study Highlights Broadband Adoption

David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio

The economic benefits of high-speed internet go beyond access and expansion. That is one of the main conclusions by researchers from University of Missouri Extension in a new study, ‘The Economic Benefits of Expanding Broadband in Selected Missouri Counties.’

"The benefits are not just the building of broadband, that's important. But also the adoption," said Alan Spell, an assistant extension professor at the University of Missouri and the study’s coauthor.

The study focused on three rural areas: Bollinger County has the lowest broadband adoption rate in the state; Henry County's rate is about average; and Nodaway County is above average.

The research found that job and labor income growth are among the main economic benefits from more broadband adoption. There are also potential gains in household income and education.

Essentially, broadband access and adoption could boost quality of life, something that’s not easy to measure.

"The benefit that I have to stream movies is a nice benefit, but I can't always put a dollar to that,” Spell said, “or the benefit of me being able to fix my own sink if something goes wrong because I can pull up YouTube and watch some instructions."

Spell said many communities want to know how to quantify the advantages of high-speed internet before making investments to help service providers expand and increase the potential of more people adopting the technology.

Researchers are taking the study to cities and towns to open a dialogue. University of Missouri Extension's Broadband Initiative team has a guide to help local officials come up with plans to become more digitally connected.

Spell said meetings with service providers, community leaders, and others are essential to understanding an area's needs and financial pressures for expanding high-speed access.

The continuing examination and discussion about the importance of broadband in daily lives come as governments pump money into the technology.

Four groups in Illinois, including Southern Illinois University, are part of the first recipients in a grant program designed to help eliminate the so-called digital divide.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration's program is making $288 million available for the expansion of broadband infrastructure throughout the country.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development is calling on broadband providers in the state to submit projects as part of an application for up to $30 million in assistance from the federal government.

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.