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“Every Last Mile: The Untold Story of Connecting Rural America." Luke Newton, Washington and Lee University (W&L), Creative Investment Research.

On Wednesday, June 26, 2024, I had the honor to attend a screening of the documentary, “Every Last Mile: The Untold Story of Connecting Rural America,” hosted by the Washington Post. The documentary showcases the recent legislative push to connect rural communities to high-speed internet access. The event also featured a Q&A session after the screening with Rural Utilities Service Administrator Andrew Berke and Virginia’s broadband office director Tamarah Holmes.

The documentary focused on three crews working to connect communities in King Cove, Alaska, Lakewood Township, Minnesota, and Congress, Arizona. Be it the freezing temperatures of Alaska, the rocky soil of Minnesota, or the debilitating heat of the Arizona desert, the documentary showcased the environmental challenges these crews must overcome. Moreover, some of the most grueling projects will only be connecting very small communities, a result that doesn’t match the herculean effort required to obtain it. Existing utilities can pose hazards to crews and are often poorly marked, meaning they’re not where the workers expect them to be, only compounding the danger.

From a minority business investment perspective, at first glance the documentary may not seem relevant. However, as the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Once rural communities are connected to high-speed internet, they will have the ability to participate in the economy to a much greater extent, leading analysts to believe this will result in a increase in US economic output (GDP). This is how federal administrators behind the policy initiative justify massive financial expenditures to connect communities that are only a few dozen people in size. During the Q&A, Administrator Berke shared a story about a rural business owner who, when first connected to her new high-speed internet, said it was the same feeling she got as a child when her family’s barn was lit with electric lights for the first time.

Rural communities may not be home to many minority-owned businesses, the policy initiative still benefits minority communities. While most of the companies laying fiber-optic cable across America’s 3.5 million square miles may not be minority-owned, a significant number of employees who identify as minority contribute to the project. They may not own the business but do have a source of stable, long-term employment. The compensation they receive from their efforts can be reinvested into businesses, fostering economic growth and development at the local community level. 

Overall, I found this initiative serves as a powerful reminder of how deeply ingrained internet services  are in American industry, both at the workforce and entrepreneurial levels.

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