Although we are living in the great age of technology, the so-called digital divide is very real, and it continues to take a significant toll across the U.S. This is particularly true of rural America, home to approximately one-fifth of the country’s total population.
Nevertheless, the hope of bridging the digital divide is emerging in a somewhat unlikely place: the smart home. Not only do smart homes make life more convenient for homeowners, they also promise to accelerate the pace of rural development.
Addressing the Infrastructure Gap
The ascendancy of the smart home in recent years speaks to the tremendous potential of the technologies not only to make life easier but also to make our homes safer and more energy-efficient.
For far too long, though, the benefits of smart housing have been largely inaccessible to rural communities due to the lack of infrastructure that would enable reliable, high-speed internet service.
Increasingly, though, satellite technologies such as Elon Musk’s brainchild Starlink are providing effective workarounds for remote areas where traditional broadband or fiber-optic internet service is not feasible.
That means that more rural homes are capable of smart home technology integration, which means that homeowners and communities alike are better able to leverage the vast benefits of these tools across all domains of life, from improving health to pursuing an education to building a career.
Smart Homes and Rural Health
The same infrastructure gaps that have for too long denied many rural communities access to reliable internet service have also contributed to significant inequities in healthcare access. Not only is there a dearth of healthcare providers in many rural areas, but those who live in these communities often lack the transportation and resources to travel the distances separating them from the nearest clinic or hospital.
Smart home technologies have tremendous potential to mitigate these disparities by allowing residents to access remote care. Telehealth technologies, including virtual consultations with healthcare providers through real-time video conferencing, as well as remote patient monitoring devices, can provide rural patients with the kind of access to consistent, high0quality healthcare that they have for too long been denied.
The much-needed expansion of healthcare into these areas can be a tremendous spur to rural development because a healthier population is also a more productive one. For
The Impact on Economic Development
In addition to the potential to remediate the health inequities that can stifle regional development, internet-connected smart homes can also dramatically increase residents’ access to education and employment.
For example, job opportunities in rural communities are often scarce, due in particular to the significant shift in the national and global economy away from manufacturing and industry and toward the information sector.
The ability to pursue “digital employment” opportunities from their smart homes means that rural residents no longer have to make the difficult choice between competing for the few, often low-paying jobs in their areas or leaving their communities to find work, contributing to the rampant depopulation afflicting many rural areas. Rather, they can access the global workforce from their own homes and with the mere touch of a keyboard.
Similarly, residents of all ages, from teens to young adults to working parents and retirees, can hone new skills and advance their careers through online education. Today, entire undergraduate, graduate, and professional certification programs from some of the world’s most prestigious universities can be completed online.
What this means is that, with access to secure and reliable internet from the convenience of their smart home, rural residents can instantly connect to the broader world, tap into the global economy, and gain a level of prosperity for their families and communities that might once have been unimaginable. This, in the end, will prove a tremendous catalyst for rural development.
Smart housing doesn’t just make life more convenient. For those who live in rural communities, these technologies can provide at last the tools they need to build a healthier, happier, more prosperous life. In harnessing the power of the smart home, they’re also helping to galvanize the development of the rural America that they love.