Most modern-day jobs require a reliable internet connection, and that need is not expected to subside anytime soon.
When viewed as a sector in 2011, internet-related consumption and expenditure was bigger than agriculture or energy, according to “Internet Matters: The Net’s Sweeping Impact on Growth, Jobs, and Prosperity,” a 2011 report from McKinsey Global Institute. The study goes on to say that internet access creates jobs, finding that it created 2.6 jobs for every one lost.
Access to information is extremely important today, as the knowledge economy is where America can best compete with other countries, said Daniel Tauritz, associate professor and associate chair for undergraduate studies and outreach activities for the department of computer science at Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla. The high-paying jobs that Americans seek require education and access to information, which are served by the internet. Further, businesses must have an online presence to make sales, order products, file taxes and more. “We are actually to the point where I would say that having internet as a basic infrastructure is what in the 1930s electricity was,” he said.
However, many people worldwide lack high-speed internet access, including tens of millions in America. In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission found that 10 percent of all Americans lack access to service that downloads at rates of 25 Mbps, including 39 percent of people in rural areas and four percent of urban dwellers.
In January 2017, Tauritz moved from Dent County to Phelps County in Missouri. When in Dent, he paid $170 per month for satellite internet, with the fastest speed offered being 25 Mbps, he said. Now in Phelps, he pays a fraction of that cost and has internet that is four times faster. “One of the worries in a lot of rural communities is that a lot of people are moving away because of lack of infrastructure. This was one of multiple reasons why I moved away,” he said. “I think more and more communities are now waking up to the fact that they’ve got to do something.”
Facebook is one of the highest-profile companies investing in internet infrastructure for cities abroad. In March 2014, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted on his site that the company’s Connectivity Lab was building drones, satellites and lasers to bring internet to more people, even helping 3 million more people in the Philippines and Paraguay gain internet access for the first time. “He sees [internet access for all] as the most critical social endeavor of our time. Zuckerberg believes peer-to-peer communications will be responsible for redistributing global power, making it possible for any individual to access and share information,” Jessi Hempel wrote in Wired’s “Inside Facebook’s Ambitious Plan to Connect the Whole World.”
New York is also working on its “Broadband for All” initiative, investing in high-speed connections for all state residents. “In today’s technology-driven world, access to high-speed internet is essential to building strong communities, growing the economy and supporting our everyday lives,” Governor Andrew Cuomo is quoted as saying in The New York Times’ “In New York, Bringing Broadband to Everyone by 2018.”
Canada is focusing on providing internet to remote communities as well, said Stephanie MacLellan, research associate specializing in internet governance and cybersecurity at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a non-partisan think tank on global governance, based in Waterloo, Canada. This helps people gain better access to online education, skills training and job opportunities, bridging the digital divide. “Whether globally or within a country or community, there will be some people who have meaningful access to the Internet and digital skills, and others who don’t, and the ones who don’t will miss out on economic, educational, political and other opportunities,” MacLellan said.
Internet access helps more than the person using it. With more people online, companies can access that talent pool and gain a more skilled workforce that can also work remotely, MacLellan said. Better internet access can also revive rural communities, Missouri S&T’s Tauritz said. Telework could become a reality to those living in rural areas. “With fully immersive videoconferencing, one could live and work literally anywhere and have the same experience as working in a big city office,” he said. Further, access could do more to repair gender inequality, he said, as “it would eliminate one of the barriers still holding many women back from fully realizing their potential in the workforce due to child-rearing.”
The downsides of improved internet access are few, experts said. One issue could be around information exchange, Tauritz said. While information is becoming more widely distributed, that can be both good and bad. Because anyone with internet access can self-publish and unverified information can spread, it can difficult to trust sources, he said.
Teleworking brings up the issue of secure connections, said CIGI’s MacLellan, who pointed to National Institute of Standards and Technology’s guide on teleworking, which advises companies to plan security policies, including around devices owned by employees, and ensure remote access servers are secure.
Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.