Digital deliverance: Dragging rural America, kicking and screaming, into the information economy

Judson Carter Edwards

Abstract

The ability to participate and prosper within the "information economy" requires advanced information technology (IT) infrastructure, such as broadband telecommunications and computer technology, at every level of economic activity. Researchers suggest that the advent of advanced IT infrastructure allows virtually any location on the surface of the earth to actively participate in the global information economy (Kelly 1998; Cairncross 2001). For many remote areas, which were previously excluded from traditional economic activity because of their distance from urban centers of industry and trade, the information economy offers the needed opportunity for economic growth and development. Even though advanced IT offers incredible possibilities, the achievement of economic sustainability and growth of rural communities in the United States has perplexed researchers and policymakers for decades (Browne 2001; Rowley, Sears, and Nelson 1996). The literature evaluates the benefits of private and pubic telecommunications technology investments and describes the power of regulatory and policy changes on private-sector business development (Malecki 1997b). In addition to policy evaluations, the research measures the impacts of telecommunications infrastructure both quantitatively and qualitatively in terms of jobs created, time to market reductions, and assessments of location factors (Haynes, et al. 1999). Despite these considerations, few studies attempt to produce a set of factors that identify rural communities with IT-based development potential and offer a set of practical guidelines for utilizing broadband telecommunications to promote rural economic development. Based on this need for "practice-based" strategies for rural economic development, this research study: (1) determines the importance or lack thereof broadband telecommunications for rural economic development, (2) develops a "broadband development index" for assessing the potential of communities to utilize broadband telecommunications for economic development, and (3) offers policy recommendations for telecommunication-based economic development planning strategies. Collectively, these focal studies serve as the basis for a practice-oriented structural framework for broadband telecommunications-based rural economic development planning.