Efforts To Expand Rural Broadband Have So Far Proved Inadequate. Could 5G or Satellite Internet Change the Game for People Seeking Remote Work Options?

Read a vacation rental listing for a rural area and you’ll sometimes see “no internet access” promoted as a plus. Such marketing chutzpah may work for a weekend break, but for people looking for a permanent home, the lack of rural internet access in the form of fast and reliable broadband is a deal breaker.

Wireless services are increasingly looking like an answer. That could be good news for landowners and investors.

Barriers to Rural Internet Access

Federal government programs to expand rural internet access through wired broadband are proving big on ambition and slow in reality. In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission launched the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program to bring broadband to areas currently without access. However, a controversial decision means none of that money will go to areas that have already received funding from a similar program by the Department of Agriculture or from state programs, even if that funding proves inadequate. Development land in those areas that do get funding will likely become far more attractive.

Some had placed their hopes on Google’s program combining fiber services and localized Wi-Fi. That’s proved a disappointment for rural internet access, however. Rather than reach places with little existing infrastructure, Google has concentrated on targeting more densely populated areas where the problem is a lack of competition rather than availability.

The Mobile Broadband Difference

Mobile broadband could really make a difference outside of the cities and suburbs. 5G cell networks are the big topic of debate for rural provision.

The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has made moves to increase the likelihood of 5G reaching underserved areas. The first is cutting the bureaucracy involved in upgrading a 4G tower to the new technology. The second is the removal of government fees imposed on carriers building 5G networks in major cities. In theory, this money could instead go toward expanding service to less populated areas.

The Federal Communications Commission has made moves to increase the likelihood of 5G reaching underserved areas.

Satellite Internet: The Next Big Thing?

Satellite internet is the other big hope for rural internet access. Previously it’s been a service that sounds great in theory but hasn’t lived up to the hype. Not only has it been prohibitively expensive, but upload speeds have been cripplingly slow, with lag also a major problem. Lag is a measure not of how quickly data transfers, but how quickly devices can respond to a request and begin the transfer. Too much lag and increasingly popular services such as video conferencing become frustratingly ineffective.

Which of these mobile technologies prove viable in the long run remains to be seen, but it’s worth exploring current and future availability in a location when assessing land value. A rural setting with city-like communications could be the dream scenario for potential residents, making location more important than ever.

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from The Voice of Land blog published by the REALTORS® Land Institute.

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