In this article we will discuss:
President Joe Biden has promised “to make sure every single American (households, and businesses alike) has access to high quality affordable high-speed internet”. He plans on spending $100 billion to close national broadband network gaps with the goal of making it as commonplace as the lightbulb, dubbing it ‘the new electricity’.
Broadband – what it is, and who doesn’t have access?
Quick definition: Broadband is defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as internet which enables users to download at a speed starting at 25 megabits per second (Mbps) while uploading at a minimum of 3 Mbps.
According to a Broadband Now Research Report, 42 million people, or roughly 13% of the U.S. population, do not have access to broadband internet. This lack of ‘digital infrastructure’ has mostly affected states with higher concentrations of rural populations. Looking at the chart below, organized in descending order, you will notice that states with densely populated cities have high broadband: connectivity rates:
- Connecticut (98.3%)
- New Jersey (98.1%)
- New York (96.8%)
While states with larger rural populations, on the other hand, have starkly lower connectivity rates:
- Mississippi (58.7%)
- Oklahoma (57.8%)
- Arkansas (54.3%)
This means that some regions in America are now rated below some of Europe’s’ weakest economies. According to a European Commission report, the overall ‘fixed broadband coverage’ across the European continent was 91.2% in 2019. Out of all EU members, Poland has the lowest amount of broadband connections per capita, coming in at a connectivity rate of ~83%. This means that there are currently 24 states in the U.S. that are lagging behind Europe’s ‘weakest’ broadband member state.
How increased broadband connectivity will affect the economy
Consumer access and experience
As consumers gain access to more efficient internet speeds, and better performance, they will be able to enjoy better user experiences. Content consumption, and day-to-day internet activities such as:
- video streaming
- high-quality image resolution
- web-loading times (eCommerce, ad-display)
- financial transaction processing
- access to real-time social networks and events
will become much smoother, and quicker, making the overall experience more agreeable. This will not only increase time-on-screen but also bring up consumer spend, user engagement, as well as access to information, public services, and education. Broadband will also create new earning opportunities for consumers from blogging, and vlogging, to product reviews, digital arbitrage, and more.
Job loss, and creation cycle
At the outset, broadband network deployment will create jobs in much the same way as any other government-backed ‘physical infrastructure’ (e.g. roads, bridges) project. Much like Roosevelt’s New Deal, which aimed to create employment through infrastructure stimulation, it is Biden’s express intent to ‘create American jobs through access, and infrastructure building’.
But beyond direct job creation, increased consumer connectivity will stimulate increased spending which will then lead to further secondary job creation. So for example, a consumer in rural Oklahoma used to having a sub-par digital retail experience, once connected to broadband will be more inclined to shop online. This creates jobs in terms of production, and delivery. It has the potential to increase sales volume for American-based digital retail businesses, as well as storage facilities, and the sale of commodities such as petrol, integral to the delivery process.
Broadband also helps businesses become more efficient, and as productivity goes up, jobs get lost (i.e. ‘capital-labor substitution’). But in the longer term, technological advancement, and specifically broadband, actually contributes to job creation. This is especially true in terms of:
- Wholesale/retail commerce
- Financial services (and other sectors with high transactional costs)
- Tourism, and hospitality
- Manufacturing (as well as other labor-intensive industries)
As well as any other sectors that can benefit from enterprise relocation, remote working, the removal of physical barriers, streamlining of processes, and direct communications.
Business sector efficiency/inefficiency corrections
Once businesses can gain access to, and operate using a broadband connection, they can benefit in 3 key ways:
One: Heightened innovation – This typically comes in the form of new services, and applications for consumers. Good examples of this include more efficient ways of carrying out financial transactions (such as PayPal, Bitcoin, and Venmo), as well as new forms of digital commerce (think: social media commerce and visual product discovery).
Two: Enterprise productivity – Broadband can make business processes more efficient in terms of creating real-time supply chain, inventory, and delivery synchronization, for example. It can also help create better marketing-sales feedback loops.
Three: Corporate reach – Access to quick, and efficient internet connections enables companies to take advantage of skilled, long-distance labor, occasionally at more competitive rates. For example, an American technology company employing a Ukrainian developer will drastically save on labor costs (the same is true for a company in New York City employing someone remotely in Idaho or any other outsourcing projects such as customer support centers). Beyond labor, it can be more competitive to source materials from afar, from nanochips to raw coppers, and fabric. And lastly, when you have better internet speeds, you can practically reach, and serve larger consumer bases, and target audiences.
What corporations stand to gain from a data collection perspective
Many of the benefits of a more connected America, can be qualified as ‘intangible capital’. Broadband, in, and of itself does not have a direct economic impact but rather serves as a platform through which businesses and consumers can better operate, and thrive. The same is true of data collection.
As more people gain access to high-speed internet, their:
- financial habits
will change and evolve. Using the ‘eCommerce digital ecosystem’ as a demonstrative example, companies will want to know:
- What their target audiences are looking for on search engines so that they can tailor marketing campaigns, and product listings (informing areas such as on-demand/mass customization).
- Which items are trending in different geolocations, and at what price points (informing dynamic pricing strategies, smart supply chain optimization, inventory management, and consumer geo-based warehousing).
- What competitors are offering, and which paid adverts, and organic reviews are getting top-engagement metrics (informing marketing, design departments, and manufacturing of product lines based on live consumer feedback).
The bottom line
Broadband has the potential to have a major impact on the US as well as other countries both culturally, and economically. But as with many ‘intangible capital enablers’, broadband is a platform for human activity much in the same way that stages function for theater troupes. The performance is only as good as the actors in the play. Entrepreneurs, willing to make organizational transformations, in an effort to capitalize on new target audiences, increased productivity, and greater innovation can use this opportunity to get their data collection efforts jumpstarted. Providing them with an accurate, real-time snapshot of new, and unchartered peoples, and territories now coming online.