Dec 15, 2021 - Technology

Rural online businesses expect a coming broadband boom

Illustration of a dollar sign made from wifi symbols

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

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.

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).

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