I didn’t have to look far to find examples of rural people inconvenienced by slow, spotty Internet. Practically everyone I know in my small, Western Colorado town (population less than 1,500) has a story. There’s the guy who can’t stream Netflix and hasn’t watched a movie in two years. The guy who can’t upload the educational videos he produces, so Fed Exes them to a server in Pennsylvania where technicians there upload them to the web. Video calls on Skype are grainy and cut out. Internet packages are pricey and there’s no competition. And so on.
But how much does the constant complaining about the Internet actually affect the local economy? And, conversely, how much does having fast, cheap, reliable Internet boost rural economic growth? At first I assumed it must help a lot. But the more I looked into it, the murkier it seemed. Internet-spurred economic development, it turns out, is really hard to measure. My latest story for High Country News.