More than ever, launching a business today is all about connections — starting with broadband connections. In the past 24 months, there’s been a quiet surge in the geographic spread of high-speed Internet networks, and that has dramatic implications for economic development, jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities. About 51 percent of U.S. Internet users now have high-speed connections, up from about 33 percent in early 2003. More important, the government estimates that 93 percent of American communities have access to broadband; if people aren’t hooked up, it’s because they choose not to be.
Much of broadband’s spread comes from telecoms picking up the postbust pieces and building out networks to midsize and smaller cities — places like Bend, Ore., Overland Park, Kan., and Albuquerque, N.M. In dozens of smaller rural towns, local governments are setting up municipal broadband networks, recalling the bygone days when many little towns built their own power utilities. Some 217 communities have fiber networks either up and running or under construction. Truckee, Calif. (population 16,000), for example, will spend $24 million on fat pipes. In all, about $500 million has been invested to date in municipal broadband.
The burrowing of broadband into the far corners of the country, many experts say, is decentralizing the opportunities for business expansion and startups, particularly in the tech industry. It gives communities far from the bright light-emitting diodes of Silicon Valley, Boston’s Route 128 tech corridor, and other big-city tech showcases a real shot at luring tech entrepreneurs. At the same time, it gives entrepreneurs new, low-cost launching pads for their ideas — not to mention exit ramps from the rat race.