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Providing High-speed Internet is like providing water and electricity in the classroom.
Lynn D. Smith, Superintendent
Brewton City Schools, AL
Silicon Valley has made its mark on the technology sector. Located in the Bay Area of California, it has served as the global center for innovation, social media and home to some of the world’s largest high-tech corporations. And because it accounts for most of the venture capital investment in the United States, it has become a hub for startups.
But there’s a new movement, Silicon Prairie being one of them, where we see innovation happening in not-so-likely places. The Midwest is poised to be a hot bed of innovation as this article from MarketWatch lists Ames and Des Moines, IA along with another one of Mediacom’s markets, Huntsville, AL as part of the 5 places emerging as America’s new tech hot spots.
So why have these traditionally known “fly-over” states now become areas of interest? In 2018, U.S. News & World Report chose Iowa as the #1 Best States Ranking in infrastructure, healthcare, education and more. It's not due to the lack of intellectual knowledge, let’s be clear. When you look at how innovation can happen, there are certain minimums a city needs to be a player – the expertise but also the infrastructure. Those that don’t have it fall behind to larger cities.
Mediacom finished a 3-year $1 billion capital investment to, among other projects, upgrade and expand its national broadband network. It led the company to be the first provider to deploy 1 Gig internet service to its entire footprint of 1,500 communities in 22 states and in the process named Iowa the first Gigabit State in the nation. Ames, Des Moines, Huntsville now have the access, the connectivity, the broadband technology that rivals the largest of metropolitan areas. And to see two of Mediacom’s markets on this list is due in part to the investment the company made in their broadband network to truly close the digital divide.
But why is all this important? Why is fueling the birth of technologies and businesses so critical? We live in a digital economy and access to ultra-fast broadband services is a key ingredient to ensuring sustainable economic growth in any community. The city influentials – mayors, city planners, heads of economic development – are the gate keepers to the business community, the anchor institutions like school districts, hospitals, banks etc. And among the questions between these leaders is how do we attract and retain successful businesses? As communities recruit new businesses, a driving question is what infrastructure is there to take advantage of? Historically, those infrastructure conversations were around water and electricity but now at the fore front of those needs is connectivity. What type of broadband connectivity will I have access to? These are the tools and resources businesses need to compete and be successful.
But also, equally important is how do these communities attract and retain good talent to work at these businesses? How can they focus on young families providing a safe place for kids to go to school and play outside? If you can’t attract and retain young professionals, then the community is not going to grow. Broadband is a way to make the community more desirable to the younger population who grew up on devices and expect to be connected 24/7. They want higher speed access and more opportunities with technology.
In the heartland of America, aka Silicon Prairie, broadband is the great equalizer that allows businesses to compete anywhere in the world. It erases geographical boundaries and makes the world a much smaller place. Technologies like video conferencing, cloud applications, augmented reality/virtual reality, telemedicine and distance learning are all made possible via our Gigabit enabled broadband network. It allows a business to be agile and able to compete which in turn drives economic development.
I see this influx of hubs and incubators every time I visit the Midwest - startups in the technology sector that are developing a different image that the Midwest is more than just corn and livestock – that businesses can be successful there. Our communities are trying to figure out how to help entrepreneurs who have great ideas, get them to build companies and start jobs.
Sustainability is a priority. Businesses want to be in communities where the quality of life is high because they can attract good qualified employees to places where people want to live. When you can achieve that, there are even more benefits - more stays in hotels, restaurant reservations, transactions in retail stores. It all has economic impact.
Steve Case, co-founder of AOL talks about the Three Waves of the internet, where he believes this technology innovation will be birthed in other places outside Silicon Valley. In the first wave, there was the onset of companies like Netscape, eBay and AOL, tech giants figuring out what to do on the internet. The second wave of companies like Google and Facebook made the internet more powerful. At that point, you needed to be in a tech center as these applications were all about the technology itself. But in this third wave, Case describes this ‘rise of the rest’ mentality where the internet technologies affect all the other parts of the economy. Those technologies can be anywhere in the world, they don’t need to be in Silicon Valley. He calls this wave “when the internet stops belonging to internet companies”. Everything we buy and use will be connected to and transferred by the internet, the internet of everything. Entrepreneurship, startups, app-based business will push this movement.
The thought leaders and good talent of these areas will have to find ways to contribute to keep fueling that growth and bring more opportunities, particularly in the technology vertical, that put their areas on the map, so to say. To read the full article from MarketWatch, click here.