For many people, broadband is inseparable from everyday life. However, much of the U.S., including businesses performing vital services, still lack access to high-speed internet. Implementing rural broadband to address this gap poses a challenging but invaluable opportunity for internet providers.
According to the FCC, roughly 19 million Americans don’t have access to fixed broadband service that meets threshold speeds. Most of these people, around 14.5 million, live in rural areas. As the internet plays an increasingly central role in modern life and business, overcoming that divide becomes more important. While that’s a difficult step, it can be an advantageous one for the providers that take it.
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Why Implement Rural Broadband?
Expanding rural broadband connectivity can drive many improvements. With faster, more reliable internet access, rural consumers will be able to access more products, growing the national economy. Similarly, it can help facilitate communication and collaboration across distances, driving innovation and new business opportunities.
Rural broadband access will also support remote work in more areas. Employees who work from home are often more productive and less stressed, but they need fast, reliable connections to do so. Expanding internet options in rural areas will create those opportunities for more businesses and the people they employ.
Internet providers that capitalize on these opportunities early can reap their benefits before more competition moves in. As the internet becomes more important, this shift will eventually happen one way or another. Getting in on the ground floor will ensure providers make the most from that transition.
While implementing rural broadband is highly advantageous, it’s not without its fair share of obstacles. Here are some best practices to follow to overcome those challenges.
Take Advantage of Government Funding
The most significant challenge of expanding rural broadband connectivity is its expense. Installing the necessary infrastructure can quickly become expensive, and with fewer users, it may take longer to see an impressive ROI. You can mitigate those costs by capitalizing on government funding programs.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $65 billion in broadband investments, much of which goes to grants or similar programs. Looking for available federal or state partnerships or grants under this legislation could help fund rural broadband expansion. Similar acts in the future could provide more opportunities in this vein, too.
Other departments like the FCC and the USDA have run funding programs for rural broadband in the past and may do so again in the future. While these opportunities won’t ensure success on their own, they help offset the high costs of implementation, leading to a quicker ROI.
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Get Local Buy-In Early
Another important measure for implementing rural broadband is to work with local businesses early in the process. Improving high-speed internet availability is only one-half of the equation. Businesses and consumers in the area must actually use these services, too, and adoption can be slower than you might initially expect.
Providers can address this issue by reaching out to companies that can benefit from increased connectivity before project completion. Ideally, this should happen before starting construction of new infrastructure. Communicating the advantages of high-speed internet to encourage partnerships early in the process can ensure business advantages, further speeding ROIs.
It may take some work to convince local businesses and consumers about these benefits, as people often don’t recognize broadband’s importance when they live without it. Just 29% of rural adults believe providing high-speed internet during the pandemic should be a government responsibility, despite the access gap.
Understand Local Challenges and Opportunities
A related best practice is to research an area to discover the challenges its businesses and consumers face. Understanding these issues can reveal how the community can benefit most from broadband access. When you know that, you can communicate broadband’s advantages more effectively.
The best way to discover which issues are most pressing for local businesses is to ask them. Survey company leaders in the area or find research that addresses the topic in that region. For some, competing with nearby large cities may be at the forefront of business owners’ minds, while others may worry more about a lack of product or service availability.
Learning about the challenges will also reveal how best to serve the local market. For example, some areas may have more demand for higher bandwidth than speed. Understanding these demands will help guide your implementation.
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Market Practical Advantages
Once you know what local clientele needs, you can market your services more effectively to gain early buy-in. In doing that, it’s important to focus on specific, practical advantages. Numbers about speeds and latency may sound impressive to someone familiar with the technology, but potential customers need to know why they’re desirable.
For businesses, focus your marketing efforts around the new opportunities and savings broadband access can provide. You may point to how broader internet access can enable zip code mapping to identify the most lucrative areas for expansion. Conversely, you could emphasize the cost-saving opportunities of embracing the cloud, which needs faster internet connections.
For consumers, the advantages are less about money and more about options. More reliable internet means access to more stores, services, and products. It could also open the door to remote education from leading schools nationwide.
Regardless of specific local needs, it’s important to build rural broadband networks to be reliable. With less infrastructure, it’s often harder to receive a consistent, continually functioning connection. Because rural communities have fewer options, that may also leave them stuck with poor service, limiting related opportunities like remote work.
If providers and their customers are to make the most of rural broadband, these connections must be consistent and resilient. This is often the larger challenge, too. More than 64% of rural Americans don’t have access to symmetrical connections, more than double the number without any kind of high-speed internet.
Constructing sufficient infrastructure to handle more traffic than what the area sees on average is the first step. It’s also important to protect this infrastructure from the elements, which it may encounter more in rural areas. Technology like smart sensors that enable faster responses to emerging issues will help, too.
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Consider Different Connectivity Options
Finally, providers should consider multiple connectivity options and how they might help meet the local clientele’s needs. Different types of connections offer varying advantages, and what’s best for rural areas may not be the same as cities. Understanding which is best starts with knowing what local communities need the most.
While fiber offers the fastest speeds and highest bandwidth, it’s not always economically viable in rural areas. Its higher costs may make it inaccessible to most users. Conversely, DSL is fairly easy to implement and affordable, but it may not provide the reliability that some local businesses need.
Ideally, a rural area will have multiple options, but a single provider can’t always offer that, at least not at first. Start by comparing each type’s advantages to local demands, then see if there are any competitors in the area. If there are, consider offering a different kind of connection to serve a different niche.
Rural Broadband Offers Many Opportunities
Rural broadband access is an increasingly important goal, not just for businesses but for overall national equality. Service providers that can work toward that goal early stand to gain considerable business.
Making the most of these opportunities requires careful planning and implementation. These best practices can guide providers through that often tricky landscape. They can then expand opportunities for their customers and establish an early lead in this growing market.
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