Rural online businesses expect a coming broadband boom
The $65 billion federal boost to expand broadband access in the U.S. will be a boon to the women-run companies on platforms like Etsy and Airbnb, especially as they see an increase in rural businesses.
Why it matters: Expanding high-speed internet access across the country will enable more women to participate in the online economy at a time when women have dropped out of the labor force due to the pandemic.
What's happening: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo held a roundtable discussion Wednesday with platform leaders and female business owners to discuss how improved broadband access leads to economic empowerment.
- The Commerce Department will oversee the awarding of the bulk of the $65 billion dedicated to expanding internet service as part of the infrastructure package, with more than $40 billion heading to the states.
Etsy seller Ali Fitzgerald, who lives in southeastern Washington state, called into the virtual roundtable using a landline because she was worried her satellite internet connection would not be stable enough for Zoom.
- Fitzgerald said she couldn't afford satellite internet when she started Wild Clementine & Co., and cell service was patchy, so she would drive to a hilltop where she got service to run her store.
- "There's still quite a lot of us that struggle with maintaining those connections and trying to run our businesses with limited internet," Fitzgerald said during the event. "It's hard enough running a business."
The big picture: Raimondo highlighted a JPMorgan Chase Institute study that found that women are more likely to use platforms like Airbnb, Etsy or eBay, than transportation platforms like Uber or DoorDash.
- Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk said women make up 60% of the hosts for the home rental company, and described WiFi as a critical amenity. “Having connectivity in these rural areas empowers hosts to participate,” Blecharczyk said.
- eBay CEO Jamie Iannone said in three quarters of states, rural business is outpacing urban business.
- Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said 80% of sellers are women, and about a quarter of Etsy sellers live in rural areas.
What they're saying: "Women especially will see the benefits of this increased access to broadband," Raimondo said. "And this is long overdue."
Editors note: This story has been corrected to note that it was Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk at the roundtable (not CEO Brian Chesky).