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USDA study finds rural communities benefit from broadband access

A new USDA economic analysis has found that rural communities with greater broadband Internet access had greater economic growth than areas with less access. The study, 'Broadband Internet's Value for Rural America' by economists at USDA's Economic Research Service, compared counties that had broadband access relatively early--by 2000--with similarly situated counties that had little or no broadband access. Employment growth was higher and non-farm private earnings greater in counties with a longer history of broadband availability.

"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 U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

By 2007, the study found, most households--82 percent--with in-home Internet access had a broadband connection. However, there was a marked difference between urban and rural broadband use. Only 70 percent of rural households with in-home Internet access had a broadband connection in 2007, compared with 84 percent of urban households.

Rural America has shared in the growth of the Internet economy, the study found. Such benefits as online course offerings for students and continuing education programs have improved educational opportunities, especially in small isolated rural areas. Telemedicine and telehealth have been hailed as vital to health care provision in rural communities. 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 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.

Copies of 'Broadband Internet's Value for Rural America' are available at: www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err78.

The Recovery Act provided a total of $7.2 billion to the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to accelerate broadband deployment in unserved, underserved and rural areas. This past July, the two agencies hosted Recovery Act Broadband Workshops, which succeeded in bringing detailed information to prospective applicants for stimulus funding available through grants, loans and grant/loan combinations.

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