By Oscar Lopez
Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the coronavirus continues to put a strain on the American economy. The financial tension is obvious and widespread, but best viewed within local economies.
Projections indicate that over 100,000 small businesses across the country have closed indefinitely, and this number will certainly rise. Congress has taken steps to provide relief through the Cares Act — but the immense demand for assistance led to all $349 billion running out within a few weeks. And much of the funding did not reach the businesses that needed support.
The effect on small businesses has trickled down to other facets of the local economy. In the midst of economic stress, over 41 million Americans have filed for unemployment, further minimizing the financial strength of local municipalities. A global pandemic has required communities and small businesses to ideate creative solutions to survive. Increasing broadband access and adoption could both strengthen the local economy and provide Americans destabilized by job loss and illness with new opportunities for socioeconomic mobility.
Especially in time of uncertainty, the need for high-speed internet connections is impossible to ignore. Broadband provides small and medium sized companies with the ability to expand consumer bases beyond their communities. Online advertisements increase exposure for their businesses, allowing them to participate in an online marketplace without borders.
Platforms like Etsy, for example, give artists and creators a platform to sell their products while their doors remain closed. Museums and musicians rely entirely on digital platforms to reach patrons and supporters online. A broadband connection also allows many small businesses to exist without the need of a brick and mortar location while keeping consumers and employees safe.
Naturally, in cases where communities lack adequate broadband coverage, local businesses are bound to suffer. For instance, in Goochland County, Virginia, high prices, low data caps, and slow connection speeds limit businesses operations. The lost revenue companies experience does not only affect the individuals, but puts a burden on employees and reduces tax revenue that supports municipal operations. In short, businesses of all sizes and the customers that support them need high-speed connections to stay competitive in a digital economy. Failure to do so means an increasing risk of being left behind for the business and the communities that they serve.
In Clinton County, Iowa, 75% of businesses rely on the internet to operate. According to Stephanie Cook, President of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, stronger internet is more likely to encourage companies to open up in the area. Thus, broadband empowers entrepreneurs to pursue their ventures and gives them the resources to be competitive on the global landscape. Clinton County is not the only community to recognize the economic benefits that broadband could provide.
Earlier this year, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the New York City Internet Master Plan, a vision for universal broadband connection in the city. Recognizing the importance of broadband, the proposal calls for a $2.1 billion investment in broadband infrastructure through each borough. According to the plan, universal broadband could provide the city with up to $142 billion in Gross City Product, up to 165,000 new jobs, and up to a $49 billion increase in personal income. These economic benefits not only impact small and mid sized companies, but citizens as well.
As local economies face the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, we must continue to invest in expanding broadband access for residents and businesses alike.