On October 3rd an organization called “Broadband WORKS for Rural America” is bringing together hundreds of individuals and groups from around the country to Washington, DC in order send a message that rural America needs increased wireless broadband access in order to grow the economy and bring jobs to those who need it most. Absolute Michigan fully supports investment in rural broadband and an overall broadband strategy that can help put Michigan in a position to grow and attract 21st century businesses. Mr. Lesich is a Michigan small business owner who has penned this informative feature – definitely check out the links!
by Michael Lesich
Michigan is transitioning from its 20th Century industrial roots to a global, interconnected, knowledge- based economy. Decisions about the future of our state’s economic direction are being made in the boardrooms of private companies and the halls of our state capitol. The most important innovation of my lifetime, the Internet, relies increasingly on a solid broadband infrastructure (land-based and mobile), to carry exponentially increasing traffic. Robust and universal access to the Internet is vital to the companies and residents of Michigan and the United States. However, we are still a long way from that critical goal.
As an owner of a small IT company, I know firsthand the benefits that come from readily available broadband access. We embrace telecommuting, remote access, and online education. We have the ability to hire the best person for the job, regardless of their location. Today’s knowledge workers, and their employers, benefit from telecommuting arrangements that reduce traffic, increase productivity, and enhance the quality of the products and services they provide.
In a recent USA TODAY Op-ed Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, correctly identified how universal broadband can stimulate job creation and economic growth. He focused on the ability of businesses to hire work-from-home employees, using the example of at-home call centers. “Twenty percent of call center jobs in America today are at-home jobs, powered by broadband,” he wrote. “The ability to work from home provides new employment options for returning veterans, people with disabilities, and parents who need flexible work schedules.”
Jobs4America, a coalition of companies calling for legislation to improve job creation in the U.S., has announced that 100,000 new call center jobs will be created in the U.S. over the next two years, including “300 new jobs in Holland, Michigan.” These jobs and many like them would not be possible if not for broadband Internet access. Citing a study by Novo 1, Chairman Genachowski explained that “returning a call center to the U.S. from overseas can save companies about 15%.” That savings means companies have more revenue to invest in expanding business and hiring new staff.
Broadband infrastructure efforts over the past 20 years have led to entire new industries and advancements. However, the growth and availability of broadband access has been largely focused on areas with a high population density. Rural areas and remote destinations were initially cost prohibitive. Advances in land-based and wireless mobile broadband technology have improved performance and lowered the cost to provide these services to a wide area. But we are a long way from universal access to all Americans, and this must quickly change in order to be competitive in a global marketplace.
According to PEW Research, 35% of adults in the US use smartphones, and do much of their internet access on these devices. Increasingly, these users now expect access to the internet everywhere they go. When it is not there, many will not return. When it is not there, companies will not expand to those areas.
When it comes to education for students of all ages, internet access is increasingly at the core of the curriculum. Many students have better access to the internet and technology at home than they do at school. Providing Internet access at all schools across this country should be a priority for every educator and legislature. A student population accessing online courses, reference materials from around the world, and participating in collaborative endeavors with students across the globe represent the future of education, far beyond the walls of libraries of schools past.
Linda Teeter of the Michigan Action Center succinctly lays out the benefits of Bridging the Digital Divide in Michigan. “If every household, school, and community in Michigan had high-speed wireless broadband we would be able to boost productivity, rapidly improve communication speeds, and provide our children with the type of technology and education they need to succeed in an ever-evolving job market.” She also includes several recent infographics from the Internet Innovation Alliance that “show how mobile broadband can benefit many aspects of rural communities as well as health IT” and can spur job creation.
With reliable high-speed Internet, Michigan businesses anywhere will be able to compete worldwide. Without reliable and universal high-speed internet, we will be competing with other states and even countries that have made the decision to put knowledge and information into the hands of their citizens. In these troubling economic times, we cannot afford to handicap our local businesses by failing to expand this critical 21st Century Infrastructure.