Topic: Butterflies & Chameleons: Digital connectivity, Innovation and Rural Businesses
Keywords: Digitisation; location; innovation; rural businesses.
The 4th Industrial Revolution offers both opportunity and challenges for rural communities and the businesses which function from them. Digitisation is changing the way rural communities and individuals interact with the wider world and shaping, voluntarily and involuntarily, how businesses function. Policy heralds the Broadband UK (BDUK) a success with headline figures claiming a 95% fibre broadband coverage. However, the universal optimum performance of the broadband network is at odds with this figure (Palmer-Abbs, 2018; Guardian, 2018).
This paper presents empirical evidence from a PhD that identifies the importance of business location and this relationship with a new five-fold digital typology (Palmer-Abbs, 2018) which depicts a very different digital tapestry as a consequence of the BDUK programme. This reveals a changing urban/rural and an evolving rural/rural digital divide. The typology offers a new way of looking at digital connectivity, business performance and the fine-line between rural business success or survival.
Rural micro-businesses are often a response to poor economic opportunities in peripheral areas where individuals use their enterprise and innovation assets to fill the ‘work gap’. These businesses are often an accumulation of multiple income activities, based in the home or adjacent properties, with the ability to ‘bend or brace’ against economic impacts (seasonal and global). Digitisation and ‘a fit for purpose’ digital connection are considered a ubiquitous tool to modern business, and a means to access wider markets. The empirical evidence from this PhD research puts to rest the notion that rural businesses are the poor rural ICT relatives of the business world. It illustrates the multiplexity of rural businesses, their innovation behaviours, which often keep pace with, and outperform mainstream ICT exploitation. Critical to this innovation is super-fast digital connectivity (fixed or mobile).
The proposed paper, and session will offer empirical evidence which conveys:
- a comprehensive review of broadband infrastructure as an alternative transportation system
- the relevance and interplay between location and rural businesses
- the outcome of innovation as a tool to business survival or success
The narrative is pertinent to global digitisation in developed countries, related policy, and in furthering academic understanding of both broadband as a technology, societal need and current standing of the UK’s digital infrastructure. It informs future research narrative, acting as a check to policy led dialogue, which is often over-positive about the progression of rural broadband (INCA, 2018).