Today’s Technology Can Send Rural Businesses into Orbit

Today’s Technology Can Send Rural Businesses into Orbit

Greg Rebman starts his day gazing at the online weather radar to see what’s in store for his farm in rural Illinois. That connection tells him what will get done on the farm that day, and what must wait. This weather information is critical to his operations, which provide grain to the U.S. and markets around the world.

Rebman Farms has grown with technology over its 100-year history. They aren’t alone either. Now, as a new generation of workers move to rural America, a new set of technologies will be needed to keep them connected. It’s no secret that professionals of all kinds left major cities during the pandemic, often relocating to rural areas for a quieter, more affordable life. With mortgage interest rates now at their highest levels since the turn of this century, workers seek affordability. A recent study showed more than 1 in 5 remote and hybrid workers are willing to relocate to a different region or increase their commute to move to more affordable rural areas.

The economic opportunity goes well beyond century-old farms and big-city executives looking for more peace and quiet. Entrepreneurs and small businesses need high-speed internet to build their brands, sell online, and recruit other workers. A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond reported that high-speed internet connections were linked to increased job and population growth, more new businesses, and lower unemployment. Connectivity improved job recruitment, reduced costs for knowledge sharing, and expanded the addressable market for a business.

In fact, small businesses have formed in record numbers in recent years. In 2021, 5.4 million new businesses filed applications, followed by 5.1 million last year, and that momentum continued with millions more this year, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Small businesses are vital to our economy. They operate 85% of all business locations and employ more than 54% of workers.

But traditional high-speed internet is not as accessible in rural areas as in the city. While 1% of Americans in urban areas lack high-speed internet access, 17% of Americans in rural areas and 21% of those living on tribal lands are stuck in the slow lane, according to the most recent FCC report on the topic. The FCC defines high-speed internet as at least 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload.

Fortunately, Washington is investing in connecting the unserved and underserved. The Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program and other federal initiatives have allocated $65 billion to build physical infrastructure to connect these Americans, many of whom are in rural areas. That’s commendable, and the right thing to do to foster access to education, community building and, yes, commerce.

How Rural Internet Options Are Evolving

Rural America is getting more connectivity options, and in the years to come, robust internet will be available to most rural businesses and residents at a competitive price. Those higher speeds and lower latency will enable services like inventory management, accounting software, and video conferencing, even in remote parts of the country.

Choosing the right option for your business means understanding what infrastructure exists now, what is being built, and how each is likely to compare years down the line. Here is how the landscape is likely to look from now through the near future.

Fiber Optic

As of June 2023, more than half of U.S. households had access to fiber optic connectivity, with some forecasts showing that the U.S. will have 80 million fiber optic subscribers by 2030. While fiber optic connectivity is faster and more reliable than traditional cable, it is expensive to deploy and less suitable for rual areas.

Fixed Wireless

Fixed Wireless adoption is rapidly growing in the U.S. The total number of fixed wireless subscribers in the U.S. grew from 927,000 in 2022 to more than 5 million in 2023. While fixed wireless can offer fast speeds in many areas, customers need to be within the range of a cell tower in order to get reliable service. Customers are also usually restricted on the amount of data they can use.

Satellite

Today, there are more than 2 million satellite broadband subscribers in the U.S. In rural areas, satellite internet remains one of the best means of connecting communities beyond the reach of adequate wireline service. In fact, geostationary (GEO) satellites have been the workhorses of rural connectivity for years.

Satellite internet is available throughout the entire U.S. — all customers need is a dish and a clear view of the sky to connect to high-speed internet. One disadvantage of satellite internet is that traditional operators who have failed to invest in their satellite fleets are facing capacity constraints, which can slow down service.

Find What Works for Your Business

So, if you plan to continue living in an urban area or operating a business in a larger town or city, then cable and fiber internet each have benefits for you. Inversely, if you are one of the millions of rural entrepreneurs thinking of launching your new business, or a professional looking for a more affordable house rurally, you don’t have to wait years to watch how $65 billion is spent on internet connections, as business-grade, high-speed satellite internet is available in even the most remote areas.

Plus, state-of-the-art multipath technologies that combine satellite with wireless coverage to create a high-bandwidth, low-latency connection are giving rural businesses the speed and reliability they need to grow.

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