A new USDA economic analysis has found that rural communities with greater broadband Internet access had greater economic growth than areas with less access. Employment growth was higher and non-farm private earnings greater in counties with a longer history of broadband availability.
Many farm communities struggling this year due to the recession, depressed crop prices and increasing costs for items like fuel for farm equipment could benefit from additional broadband access, USDA found.
"Rebuilding and revitalizing rural communities is one of my top goals and a key component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and this study reaffirms that expanding access to broadband is a catalyst for economic development," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Rural residents could benefit from online course offerings for students and continuing education programs and telemedicine to bring remote doctors into rural communities, the report said.
Most employment growth in the U.S. over the last several decades has been in the service sector, which is especially conducive for broadband applications. Broadband expansion allows rural areas to compete for low-and high-end service jobs, from call centers to software development.
The farm sector is increasingly comprised of farm businesses that buy inputs and make sales online, the study found.