189146814_f8190115f81Seen the “Rural Riddle: Do Jobs Follow Broadband Access?” in the WP?

If you don’t live in a rural area, you probably aren’t paying much attention to broadband access in the small towns. For myself, in Blacksburg, it’s not really on my radar either – Blacksburg was (isn’t any more) one of the most wired (and wireless) small towns in the country and so wireless access isn’t something I think about much … it’s just there, and I seem to get a little ticked when I’m somewhere that I can’t get wireless. But for many Americans, particularly those in small towns sprinkled around VA, broadband access isn’t on their radar because they’ve never had it.

That’s why this article about broadband access in Lebanon and Rose Hill – small towns in VA – was so interesting to me. The undertaking was a first of it’s kind, and while broadband access is crucial to providing high-tech jobs and, in another sense improving at least one component of quality of life, the author goes off track in suggesting that broadband in and of itself cannot run an economy.

I spoke with a friend who used to be a planner in Pulaski County, here in Southwest VA, the other day about this project. He replied:

Rural areas are rural areas … period. For many people, especially those who likely got their high-tech training in an urban area or large university, the rural area may lack the amenities to provide the quality of life they desire or expect. I.E., movie theaters, places to eat and shop, local arts and festivals, libraries, museums and even basic things such as grocery stores … Obviously for some people that’s enough … but for an outsider coming in it might be a bit of culture shock.

Amenities are a part of a communities’ infrastructure. No longer are water and sewer lines, roads, etc., the only required components of that infrastructure. Parks and other leisure activities are becoming more and more a requirement of successful communities, but broadband alone cannot be a driving economic force. It can certainly be a component of economic development, and as well an asset, but that alone will not attract and retain a highly-educated workforce. I’d like to see some realistic non-biased statistic on how many people that this company has attracted, only to have those same individuals leave not only the company but the area because of a lack of other important amenities. That is one of the biggest reasons that places like Rose Hill and Lebanon have remained, for the most part, rural – the lack of supporting infrastructure.”

From a planning perspective, I can see that. From a utopian perspective, I struggle with it. Why can’t a broadband industry be the lifeblood of a small, rural town in VA? Can it be done? Or are my glasses just a little too rosy?

Photo by Mahalie