Business Brains

Can we wire our way to economic opportunity?

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Distressed or remote communities have always lost much of their young and skilled workers in droves as they left for greener pastures. Will greater online access reverse this outflow of human capital?

Last week, I ruminated about the possible far-reaching but under-studied effects of information technology, on both the greening of business and society, as well as the potential of spreading opportunities and revitalization to communities long out of reach of the economic mainstream.

Reports are that the federal government will soon start handing out $4 billion in stimulus funds targeted at establishing high-speed Internet connections to more rural communities, poor neighborhoods and other parts of the county lacking online access. E-business may be just what is needed by remote rust-belt communities or Native American reservations that have been cut off for years, by geographic distance, from the mainstream of business.

Residents have had to leave their communities to seek employment or attend school in other parts of the country. Now, it’s possible to build businesses, and attend the nations’ best universities, without leaving these communities.

But to get to this place, these communities need better service -- and in many cases, it's out of reach. Commercial Internet service providers often don't see business value in wiring these areas. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that community groups seeking the expand Internet access include the following:

  • The Coeur d'Alene Indian tribe of Idaho is asking for $12.2 million for a ring of fiber-optic lines that could connect up to 3,500 homes on one side of its rural reservation that has been underserved by cable and DSL providers.
  • Clearwire Corp., a WiMax provider, seeks $19.4 million to build a high-speed wireless network in impoverished Detroit neighborhoods.
  • Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), a nonprofit Internet provider based in Appalachia, is asking for $2.5 million to extend its wireless network in Asheville, N.C., and several remote mountain communities. A sister nonprofit is asking for $38.8 million to install fiber lines that would connect that network to the Internet.

E-business means a new realm of economic opportunity on a scale we have not experienced before. Distressed or remote communities have always lost much of their young and skilled workers in droves as they left for greener pastures. Will greater online access reverse this outflow of human capital?

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure