For decades, America’s rural communities have led the country in entrepreneurship. However, rural entrepreneurship is on the decline, and the lack of something essential is jeopardizing entrepreneurial opportunity in rural America. Today, 23.4 million rural Americans live without access to high-speed internet, a resource on which modern businesses depend to connect with consumers around the globe. In conjunction with programs like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Universal Service Fund (USF), we know that utilizing television white spaces (TVWS) can provide the tools to link America’s rural entrepreneurs with success.
A recent report by the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy, called “The Retreat of the Rural Entrepreneur,” found that fewer than 1 in 6 self-employed workers lived in rural areas in 2016, a drop from the 1 in 4 entrepreneurs in 1988. The report attributes these changes to the movement of eligible workers away from rural areas and a decrease in the rate of rural self-employment. Though these each led to a decrease in rural entrepreneurship, their catalyst could be linked to a lack of internet.
In the modern economy, entrepreneurs depend on the internet for their everyday business activities and their overall success. According to a World Economic Forum Report, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that access global markets over the internet have a 30 percent higher survival rate than their counterparts that operate offline. Whether they manage a brick-and-mortar store, participate in an online marketplace, or provide intangible services, entrepreneurs benefit from the internet’s ability to promote their product, reach new and distant customers, or track the shipment and delivery of their goods. What’s more, internet connectivity allows entrepreneurs to hire and engage with talented employees in distant parts of the country, allowing workers to stay in their rural communities but experience the benefits of a global market.
We recently explored the benefits of rural broadband to the Etsy economy, where nearly 30 percent of sellers are located in rural parts of America. The marketplace provides a ready-made internet-based forum that enables rural entrepreneurs and business owners to reach consumers around the globe with great success. Last year alone, $2.84 billion worth of goods were sold on Etsy.
As app developers, we know that 83 percent of top apps are created outside of Silicon Valley, in the rural cities and towns that span the country. Each of ACT | The App Association’s members is an entrepreneur — and their ideas come from rural development shops in Alabama, telehealth centers in Mississippi, technology consultants in Colorado, and rural communities in between. America’s next rural entrepreneur with a revolutionary idea, or a tech solution to simplify our lives, is waiting for his or her opportunity to thrive. However, lack of internet connectivity hinders their potential for growth, or worse, prevents it from ever happening.
Here’s where television white spaces can help. Using a TVWS-enabled device, rural communities can utilize existing, but unused television frequencies to access the internet for a variety of purposes. Just like television towers can reach viewers across a several-mile radius, television white spaces would enable data to be transferred over long distances, through mountains, over hills, and across plains, to deliver high-speed internet to remote, rural communities. Additionally, a variety of phones, tablets, and devices can connect to a shared TVWS device, enabling multiple entrepreneurs to easily access the internet and focus their energies on their business and growth.
Broadband connectivity may be the missing piece of the puzzle to reverse the trend of declining rural entrepreneurship. Television white spaces can help provide America’s aspiring entrepreneurs with access to the internet, and take away a hurdle that may prevent them from getting their idea, goods, or service off the ground and into the hands of consumers around the world.