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What is Broadband?

"Broadband" is basically high-speed data transmission, particularly in reference to Internet access.In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission originally defined "broadband" as being speeds of at least 200 kilobytes per second (kbps) of data throughput in at least one direction.This is about 4 times as fast as most dial-up modems, which typically connect at 56 kbps.

As of July 2010, however, the definition of broadband has been updated to services that provide at least 4 Mbps downstream (to the user) and 1 Mbps upstream (to the provider).  This is 20 times faster than the previous 200 kbps definition, and indicates that many online applications are now requiring higher speed connections.

There are many types of technology that provide broadband connections to the Internet. The two most popular types are Cable access (provided by your local cable company) and Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL, provided by your local phone company). According to the FCC, residential high-speed lines in the U.S. had the following breakout as of December 2008:

Source: FCC Industry Analysis and Technology Division. "High-speed Services for Internet Access: Status as of December 31, 2008." Februrary 2010.

Note that mobile wireless connections, which were not even included in versions of this report in the early 2000s, have become increasingly prevalent.Additionally,fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections, which provide even higher speeds than Cable or ADSL, have also increased as urban areas have seen rollouts of systems such as Verizon FIOS or AT&T's U-Verse.

Why is it Important?

The Internet has changed people's lives like no other force in the twenty-first century. It changes how people obtain their information on a daily basis, how they interact on both a personal and business level, what they expect from their governmental organizations, and how they spend their leisure time. Broadband access reinforces all of these shifts by allowing near-instantaneous data exchange. Some of the activities that broadband access enables include:

  • Large file transfers (data exchange for businesses)
  • On-line courses (from completing a GED to Ph.D. level)
  • E-commerce (small business websites / storefronts, e-bay use for individuals)
  • Telemedicine (provision of health services via video consultation or image transfer)
  • Entertainment (video, audio, picture exchange)
  • Government interaction (filing taxes online, websites for appropriate agencies)
  • Personal interaction (instant messenger, phone calls over the Internet - VOIP)

Several studies have attempted to quantify the importance of broadband access. These estimates have included an increase of $500 billion to the U.S. GDP (Crandall and Jackson, 2001) and an expansion of U.S. employment by 1.2 million jobs (New Millenium Research Council, 2002). A more recent study by MIT economists suggests that those communities without broadband access will lag behind in terms of growth in employment and number of businesses (Lehr et al, 2006). Additionally, research by faculty at Oklahoma State have estimated the value that telemedicine can have for a rural community (Whitacre, 2009).

Broadband access is particularly important for rural communities because of its "distance-negating" nature. A small-town farmer can now take on-line classes to complete his college degree from home instead of having to travel several times a week, or can buy his farm inputs from the web instead of having to take a trip 30 miles to town. When a small business participates in e-commerce, they are taking advantage of broadband access to increase the size of their potential market and compete globally. However, rural areas tend to lag behind urban areas in terms of broadband access for a number of reasons - including a lack of infrastructure (cable / DSL) and also a lack of knowledge on how to effectively use this technology. For more on this "digital divide," see the section on Status of broadband in the United States.

The links below include:

  1. An Oklahoma State University Fact sheet providing an overarching view of broadband access in the state. It also looks at household and business opportunities derived from broadband, and some basic steps for communities looking to take advantage of this technology.
  2. An in-service training presentation that discusses some of the basics about broadband access. This presentation also gives information on options for rural communities to obtain broadband infrastructure (the supply side) and how they can use it (the demand side).
  3. An in-service training presentation that provides some basic information on how to set up a website. This presentation includes information on domain names, web hosts, and lists several options for website design.


Crandall and Jackson, Criterion Economics Study. "The $500 Billion Opportunity: The Potential Economic Benefit of Widespread Diffusion of Broadband Internet Access." July 2001.

Lehr, W.H., C.A. Osorio, S.E. Gillett, and M.A. Sirbu. "Measuring Broadband's Economic Impact." September 2006. New Millennium Research Council Study. "Building a Nationwide Broadband Network: Speeding Job Growth." February 2002.

New Millennium Research Council Study."Building a Nationwide Broadband Network: Speeding Job Growth." February 2002.

Whitacre, B., P. Hartman, S. Boggs, and V. Schott "A Community Perspective on Quantifying the Economic Impact of Teleradiology and Telepsychiatry." The Journal of Rural Health 25(2): 194-197. 2009.