Founder and CEO of SmartRent, an enterprise home automation and internet of things platform for the multifamily industry.
As Covid-19 has spread throughout the U.S., reliable high-speed internet in the home has never been more essential. In a survey of 2500 American workers, Stanford economists showed that a stunning 42% were working from home full-time. Those workers depend on internet access to successfully do their jobs. Many students — from preschool to college level — were forced to shift to online learning with almost no notice in March, and many remained that way for the remainder of the school year. As fall continues, many school districts rely on some kind of hybrid model that incorporates online learning. Internet access has also been crucial for people of all ages to maintain social connections when they must be physically apart. This is especially true for older people, who are at the highest risk of complications from Covid-19 — and more likely to suffer from social isolation. With all its importance, internet access is unequally distributed and property owners — as well as tenants — have a lot to gain from better access to high-speed internet.
Rural and low-income communities are hit the hardest by that inequity and are subsequently at risk of falling behind. According to the FCC, approximately 19 million Americans still lack high-speed internet access. But, if you ask Microsoft, that number is closer to 157 million: about half the U.S. population. Those who are missing out are largely concentrated in rural areas, leading to significant disparities in the job and educational opportunities. Workers without reliable internet access may struggle to meet deadlines and conduct meetings and are at risk of becoming less reliable employees through no fault of their own.
People who have been laid off may want to include online jobs in their search but are limited if they don’t have the internet at home. Public internet access points, such as libraries with internet access, have restricted hours or closed completely due to Covid-19 restrictions. Students without reliable internet access risk missing out on both learning time and the social stimuli available via online learning. Some are even forced to learn in their cars by driving to a Wi-Fi hotspot in the school parking lot — and those without cars are left in an even more challenging position. With the world more likely to embrace remote work, distance-learning, telehealth and other technology-enabled access options post-pandemic, it’s more crucial than ever that we address the digital divide.
Enhancing high-speed internet access requires infrastructure efforts from private and public groups, but once systems are in place, individuals should be able to take advantage. Owners of multifamily buildings and investors with single-family homes in their portfolio also stand to gain from better infrastructure. Aside from helping the many individuals who can benefit from better access, widespread, reliable, high-speed internet access offers advantages to property owners and managers. There are three main benefits to increased internet access for property owners, which also come with secondary benefits for tenants.
1. A Larger Prospective Tenant Pool
Introducing better broadband infrastructure not only benefits residents looking to grow their career and educational opportunities but also benefits property managers and owners who will see the pool of prospective tenants grow. As more tenants are relying on the internet for both work and education, high-speed internet access becomes more of a necessity than an amenity. Property owners can also potentially benefit from increasingly financially stable residents who are better positioned to pay rent on time thanks to more job opportunities open to them. They may even be more likely to live in the community long-term.
2. More Room For Innovation
Owners of multifamily communities and single-family properties — especially in low-income areas — have been left out of the smart home revolution, in part because of a lack of broadband infrastructure. Without smart home technology, they’re blocked from exploring and utilizing innovations in the smart home field. This can potentially cost owners and managers more in the long run as tenants pay more — and waste more — electricity, water and other utilities. Smart thermostats and leak sensors can not only have a major impact on families’ monthly budgets, but they also help shore up property owners’ investments by preventing catastrophic damage and helping maintain operational efficiency. Spreading broadband access would provide the benefit of allowing multifamily owners in rural and low-income communities the choice to invest in smart technology that would help themselves and their residents alike.
3. Employees And Contractors Gain Efficiency
Just as internet access helps tenants better learn and work, employees and contractors of all sizes of properties can better perform their tasks with a good connection. High-speed internet access could allow employees to work onsite where they might not have been able to before. Contractors like plumbers, electricians and others who rely on mobile devices during service calls don’t need to rely on mobile data in rural areas where the signal is weak.
In order to help level the playing field for many Americans, an economic stimulus package focused on reliable, high-speed internet access is needed. As policymakers determine what should be incorporated in further economic stimulus bills in the wake of the Covid-19 recession, high-speed internet infrastructure should be considered. Broadband for all programs to get broadband into every home and multifamily community are not new, but the results have been mixed. We need to and can do better by incentivizing broadband companies to build out the infrastructure through tax breaks, which in turn will lead to new infrastructure spending in rural states and low-income communities. Building out this infrastructure will not only increase the opportunities associated with internet access in those areas but also create jobs. For example, it’s estimated that the 2009 American Recovery And Reinvestment Act — which largely invested in green tech infrastructure — helped double employment in the solar energy industry from 2010 to 2015. I believe we can find similar success by replicating productive pieces of that model for internet access.