Broadband׳s contribution to economic growth in rural areas: Moving towards a causal relationship


• We use recent data on broadband availability and adoption in the U.S.
• We model broadband׳s impact on economic growth from 2001 to 2010.
• Propensity score matching compares “treated” versus “control” non-metro counties.
• High levels of broadband adoption are (arguably) causally associated with higher incomes.
• Broadband adoption is more important than availability for economic growth measures.


This paper uses recent data on both broadband availability and adoption to empirically gauge the contribution of broadband to the economic growth of rural areas of the United States over the past decade. Availability data from the National Broadband Map aggregated to county level is used in conjunction with county-level adoption data from Federal Communication Commission. Economic variables of interest include median household income, number of firms with paid employees, total employed, percentage in poverty, and the percentage of employees classified as either creative class or non-farm proprietors. A propensity score matching technique (between a “treated” group associated with various broadband thresholds and a control group) is used to make preliminary causal statements regarding broadband and economic health. Growth rates between 2001 and 2010 for different economic measures are tested for statistical differences between the treated and non-treated groups, restricting the analysis to non-metropolitan counties. Results suggest that high levels of broadband adoption in rural areas positively (and potentially causally) impacted income growth between 2001 and 2010, and negatively influenced unemployment growth. Similarly, low levels of broadband adoption in rural areas lead to declines in the number of firms and total employment numbers in the county. Broadband availability measures (as opposed to adoption) demonstrate only limited impacts, suggesting that future broadband policies should be more demand-oriented.

Whitacre, B., Gallardo, R., Strover, Sr. (2014, December). Telecommunications Policy.