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Rural Rising

Something big happened a few years ago, and very few of us noticed. Public policy, uniquely aligned between both major political parties, found a common cause – universal high-speed internet access. It’s the kind of policy decision that could be easily lost amongst the noise, and yet slowly and quietly, the federal government and several state governments started funding this policy with billions of dollars. New York State, alone, set aside $500 million in 2015.

If you’re like me, you probably didn’t notice. After all, the internet isn’t exactly new anymore, and most people already have access to it, right? Surely, in the decades since Prodigy, CompuServe, and dial-up modems arrived, everyone must be already online, and the few that aren’t are in the vast minority. What are farmers going to do with high speed internet access, anyway? Yawn.

Yawners, this blog post is for you. Just as economic forces drove people to cities for jobs, once the barriers to a rural migration are removed, economic forces will reverse the flow. Why spend $500,000 on a condo in a city when you can own 50 acres and a 5,000 square foot home in a less densely populated area for the same price? Why should a company choose to locate in a city when the cost of construction, energy, and employment is lower farther away? In the past, a physical workforce was required to be present to produce something, but when the technology exists to allow a team to work from anywhere, employers and employees alike will begin a migration that will reduce the cost of living in cities and geographically redistribute wealth throughout our country.

The data is shocking:

  • 34 million Americans don’t have high-speed internet access, according to the FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report, and far fewer have “fiber” speeds of 100mbps that would be so helpful for education, jobs, high definition entertainment, and more.

  • Most of the country is rural, by county and land area. According to 2010 US Census data, 60% of counties are mostly or completely rural, and 37% of the US population doesn’t even live within an “incorporated area” like a town, borough, village, or other municipality. 96.5% of the land area in the United States is outside of municipalities.

  • Most Americans believe they need high-speed internet access. According to a 2015 Pew Research report, 2 out of 3 Americans believes that “not having a home high-speed internet connection would be a major disadvantage to finding a job, getting health information or accessing other key information.”

What will happen when the vast areas in between cities have fiber-speed internet access? There will be a normalization of property values, putting pressure on urban areas while lifting rural areas, as people, jobs, and income follows the path of fiber networks. Communities such as Massena, NY will champion the cause, focusing economic development efforts on this unique differentiator. Realtors first, and then home sellers themselves, will start to see that homes in fiber-connected areas sell for more than homes outside those areas. And ultimately, consumers will consider rural locales as reasonable alternatives to urban lifestyles.

In fact, I believe so strongly in this trend that I invested both my time and money in a company helping rural areas do exactly this. I'm proud to say I'm now President of Slic Network Solutions, and we're building fiber to the home and changing people's lives.

In this guy's biased opinion, there is a coming rise of rural areas and we, as a society, should prepare for the opportunities this creates. I, for one, welcome my new rural overlords.

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