With gigabit fiber internet slowly proliferating around the country because of municipal fiber projects, Google Fiber, startup ISPs, and new investment from incumbents spurred by grants and competition, America is quickly dividing into two additional segments, no longer is it those that have internet and those that do not, now we are seeing further divide between those that have fast internet and those who do not.
Communities are keen to implement next generation fiber optic infrastructures, as they recognize such assets are crucial to economic development and growth strategies and are not merely an entertainment medium. Only about 25 percent of Tennesseans have access to fiber with rural areas lagging far behind, and that’s bad news for rural economies. Big Telecom has little interest in expanding to small towns and farmlands, as shareholders are out for a return on their investment; running fiber optic cable into rocky Appalachian soil isn't cheap.
The “digital divide” is the gap that exists between individuals advantaged by the internet and those individuals disadvantaged by lack of access to the internet. The divide has widened as technology has advanced with the advent of next generation fiber optic broadband that can make 1 GB broadband speeds available. The growing gap disproportionately affects rural areas as rural residents have few choices of internet service providers – or none at all. They pay higher prices for lower quality service.
Having access to high speed broadband service is quickly becoming the most important differentiating infrastructure of our time. A 2016 report from then Commissioner for Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd, found businesses in Tennessee said broadband enabled 43 percent of all net new jobs and 66 percent of revenues. In addition, 34 percent of businesses classified broadband as essential to selecting their location, and 56 percent noted that it was essential to remain in their location.