Poster Paper: Community Decision-Making for Rural Broadband Infrastructure

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Casey Canfield1, Ona Egbue2 and Javier Valentin-Sivico1, (1)Missouri University of Science & Technology, (2)University of South Carolina Upstate

Motivation. Increased rural internet access is associated with increased incomes and reduced unemployment (e.g. by increasing opportunities for remote work and expanding brick and mortar enterprises online). In fact, a 10% increase in fixed broadband access increases GDP in developed countries by about 1.2%. In addition, broadband can improve health outcomes by increasing access to telemedicine in rural areas that are far from a doctor or hospital as well as education outcomes by allowing students to access the internet at school. Broadband access may be a life-or-death issue for small rural towns that struggle to retain young people when there are insufficient jobs and opportunities.

Research Aims. At present, there is federal funding available for rural broadband infrastructure deployment, but little support is provided to leverage strategic planning and evidence-based approaches to maximize efficiency and minimize cost. Via qualitative and quantitative data collection, this study aims to answer three primary research questions:

  1. What are the barriers to rural broadband deployment?
  2. How do local government officials and community leaders make decisions related to investing in broadband?
  3. What opportunities exist to leverage existing infrastructure and minimize system costs?

Methods. In this preliminary work, semi-structured interviews with regional planners are used to identify primary challenges and opportunities facing deployment of rural broadband infrastructure. This work is focused on Missouri, but the methods and insights are generalizable to other states. Analysis is focused on regional comparisons, which vary in terms of access, resources, and interest in broadband deployment.

Implications. The findings in this research can be used by public and private decision makers to strategically manage mutual resources and effectively engage in a collaborative effort to improve broadband access in rural communities. Particularly in the context of new technology, it is difficult for decision makers to decide whether to invest now or wait for technology to improve. In addition, due to insufficient data access and collection, it is challenging to identify suitable existing infrastructure - which ranges from horizontal structures to telecommunications equipment. For example, there may be an opportunity to leverage smart grid infrastructure investment to improve rural broadband access. However, challenges range from legal barriers (associated with right-of-way laws) to the need for coordinated decision-making. This research aims to identify opportunities, conduct relevant policy analysis, and develop decision tools to help local governments and community leaders make more coordinated, strategic investments in broadband technology.