Remote working was thrust upon millions of people in 2020. As workplaces shut down, a large percentage of the American workforce retreated to their homes and logged on.
Now, in 2023, many employees continue to work from home not from necessity, but by choice. Employers and employees discovered that remote working was cost-effective and didn’t impact productivity during the pandemic. Therefore, a large proportion of workers still enjoy the benefits of telework.xx
Workers in rural areas though didn’t quite see all the gains of remote working in the last couple of years. Slow broadband and unreliable connections have made telework in rural areas difficult.
Now, rural ISPs have expanded to new areas and are investing in broadband infrastructure. And this makes the future landscape for rural jobs look promising.
What is meant by broadband?
Before delving into the issues and hopes for rural teleworkers, the definition of broadband is worth looking at. Despite many subscription packages being advertised as broadband, not all meet the FCC guidelines.
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission outlined its broadband threshold. For a service to be defined as broadband it must have a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps. The service must also provide a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps.
It is this threshold that many rural internet users have struggled to experience.
Where are most remote workers concentrated?
Perhaps not surprisingly, most remote workers are based in urban areas, especially cities. The geography of remote working shows that Florida is a hotbed.
Cities such as Tampa Bay, Orlando, and Jacksonville, dominate searches for remote work online. In areas dominated by rural counties, the stats show urban areas are also preferred by remote workers.
59 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are deemed to be rural. Yet, Kentucky rests in the top places for volume of remote job applications. However, not surprisingly, a city is involved not a rural town. Louisville, Kentucky is the sixth highest place by volume of people looking for remote work.
If urban remote workers left the cities and towns and moved to rural areas, there would be a shift in the landscape. The spread of rural internet service providers could change rural communities significantly.
How would rural areas benefit from more remote workers?
Only around 23% of Kentucky’s population lives in rural areas. This is despite only half the counties being urban. If remote workers navigated to rural towns, this would change.
The main benefit of remote workers moving into rural areas such as Kentucky would be growth. From the 1990s through 2010, rural America experienced a population growth of millions. However, between 2010 and 2020, rural USA witnessed the first decade-long decline in population.
The decline in the rural population is not huge, but it is significant. People moved away to seek out better employment opportunities. Urban areas offer better options for work and schooling. Cities have more possibilities. And a lack of high-speed broadband would have played some part in people moving to urban areas.
If rural ISPs continue to invest in areas such as Kentucky, then the landscape will change for the positive. If families and individuals can be attracted to rural areas then there will be economic growth.
Consumer services will spring up to meet demand from the increased population. This means higher levels of employment and improved quality of life. Businesses outside of rural areas would be more likely to invest if broadband infrastructure was improved.
And the ISPs themselves would benefit. Internet service providers investing in rural areas will benefit from remote workers moving in and subscribing to their services.
Improved quality of life
It won’t only be ISPs and remote workers benefiting from faster broadband. Farmers, students, and the vulnerable will all gain from a stable, fast internet connection. Farmers need broadband to access markets and weather reports. Students use the net for research. And vulnerable people in remote areas can use telehealth services when broadband is available.
What is the state of rural broadband now?
For a clear picture of anywhere in the US now, the FCC broadband map shows coverage. What it doesn’t show though is how many people are unable to connect to the internet at all.
ISPs are constantly expanding their services so numbers can only be estimated. Nonetheless, as of October 2022, only 67% of tribal lands had fixed broadband access.
Things are slightly better in rural USA than they are on tribal lands. About 22.3% of rural communities have no broadband access. In the past, broadband services in rural and tribal areas often failed to hit the minimum FCC threshold.
Investment in rural broadband
Before the pandemic, the ISP industry as a whole was investing an estimated $80 billion a year into its services. This led to thousands of residents in remote areas receiving broadband for the first time every month.
In 2021, $65 billion was set aside to further broadband expansion in rural areas by the US government. And since then, local governments have invested funds in improving rural broadband.
How do most people in rural areas access the internet now?
The only choice for many people in rural areas is to use libraries. Cafes with internet access might provide another option. Or a friend’s home where broadband is available. It hasn’t only been broadband access that’s caused difficulties in rural areas, the cost has too.
Rural residents have been limited in their options for ISPs and found some subscriptions costly despite being slow. Remote workers would have had far fewer options for rural ISPs until now.
For many people living in rural areas, mobile broadband still remains the only option. Far from ideal for remote working, especially with poor signal coverage from mobile networks.
What difficulties do remote workers face in rural USA?
As rural internet services expand, remote workers will find life easier. Fortunately, slow rural internet is a thing of the past for many communities today. Yet, some problems remain in remote areas.
Many people in rural areas live some distance from their neighbors. The distance between homesteads and small communities has made it difficult for ISPs to provide fast broadband for everyone.
A remote worker choosing to live up to their job title might be some distance from the nearest town. This can lead to several problems.
Long working hours
Difficulty finding employment
Technical support could be very limited in rural areas. And speeds and connections unstable, and unpredictable. One problem facing teleworkers is employers might prefer their workforce to be in urban areas with high-speed internet.
Hopefully, as rural ISPs improve the outlook for remote working, a sea change will happen.
How are ISPs changing the landscape for rural remote workers?
Rural America offers many benefits to remote workers. Rural areas will have lower rent and house prices than cities, and some say there is a better sense of community. The air is cleaner in rural towns than in urban areas, and small-town life holds many attractions.
Rural ISPs are helping remote workers envision a life outside of cities by expanding broadband infrastructure. More fiber is being laid, and affordable subscription packages are being offered to rural consumers.
Internet service providers in rural areas are reaching out to communities further afield than before. Where no internet access was possible, now fast-broadband is being used.
Until recently, remote working in some parts of rural America would seem impossible. But, the landscape is changing. Rural ISPs are helping to spread broadband access to more communities. And if broadband continues to be rolled out across rural USA, then these areas could see population growth.
As remote workers explore the benefits of living in a rural area, existing communities will receive a well-needed economic boost.