What do we know about broadband access?

Access to internet is crucial for today’s economic activity because it fosters increased productivity, improved business operations, increased healthcare and educational opportunities, and a more competitive entrepreneurship environment (USDA). Though more than 90% of the U.S. population has access to internet (FCC), for a business to thrive, it needs more than that – it needs reliable and affordable high-speed internet.

In general, one of the fastest internet options is broadband, which stands for “broad bandwidth” and is defined as internet connection with a download speed of at least 25 Mbps (megabits per second) and an upload speed of at least 3 Mbps (FCC).

Broadband comes in several high-speed transmission forms, such as DSL (digital subscriber line), cable modem, fiber optic, wireless and satellite.

Nationally, access to internet of any type ranges between 87%-100%, and broadband access ranges between 53%-85%. The Kentucky average for broadband access is 72.9% (Census Bureau). However, there are significant differences at county level as illustrated in Image 1 above.

Why does broadband access matter?

Broadband has become a term so ubiquitous that we no longer really register its significance. The reality is that in the span of one generation, broadband is just as important to a community’s infrastructure as is clean water, electricity, and roads.

The same holds true here in Kentucky. Communities can use strong broadband access as a motivation to attract entrepreneurs, or use the development of stronger infrastructure to keep the talent they have.

For highly scalable businesses, fast and reliable connectivity to global markets is a must. Consider the companies that have grown rapidly over the past decade (e.g., Amazon, eBay, Uber). They all share a dependence on high speed internet.

Even those businesses whose models are not based around connectivity, they often require internet to operate. Business functions like buying, selling, communicating, and data storage are now almost entirely dependent on internet.

Kentucky’s entrepreneurs, generally speaking, have access to higher speed internet as compared to the rest of the population. Still, there are significant pockets of the state (see Image above for specific areas) where internet access is limited and connection speeds may be lower.

At the community level, what is at stake if there is limited access to broadband? Oftentimes, infrastructure is a crucial consideration for business location. A business community may struggle to support themselves on local commerce alone, and lacking high speed internet, may not be able to compete with businesses that do have access. As Kentucky’s entrepreneurial ecosystem develops, there is an opportunity for communities to be proactive in supporting local businesses through policies that enable broadband expansion.