Getting on the Grid: How Rural Property Values Benefit from Broadband


USDA Economic Research Service

Despite a decade of deploying telecommunications infrastructure improvement programs, Americans in rural communities are still less likely to have home internet access than those who live in urban areas (Perrin 2019). There are potential consequences to these circumstances: workers may have difficulty working remotely; school-age children and adolescents could face barriers to participating in online education; and residents may have minimal access to telehealth services. Working with the USDA’s Economic Research Service, our researchers are exploring the effects of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) broadband programs on rural broadband availability, use, household income and property values, allowing policymakers to better understand the efficacy of their funding initiatives.

Project Overview

We are examining federal loan and grant programs that facilitate broadband deployment to otherwise ‘off-the-grid’ areas, and explore whether access to and use of broadband, median household income, and residential home values increased over time in communities that received broadband access as a result of these programs. We use a number of diverse data sources to accomplish our goal. These include:

  • Local real-estate tax assessment and deed data to identify property characteristics and sales values;
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data to map broadband coverage;
  • US Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service (RUS) program data to identify where programs have been deployed; and
  • American Community Survey (ACS) data to describe the demographic, economics, and social characteristics of eligible areas that received a RUS grant compared to those that did not.

Our early findings highlight how best to leverage existing federal and private-sector data to study broadband availability in rural communities and the effects of having or not having broadband access. Our continued work includes:

  • Examining divergences in data quality (such as broadband coverage reported between ACS and FCC (see Figure 1).;
  • Comparing social, demographic, and economic characteristics of areas that received Rural Utilities Service(RUS) grants or loans with eligible areas that did not receive such assistance;
  • Examining areas that received RUS grants or loans with areas immediately surrounding the grant area (e.g., 5 miles out, 25 miles out as a concentric circle around the area) to assess if there are spillover benefits; and
  • Using spatial modeling techniques to examine changes in residential property values before and after program implementation.


Map of Virginia
Figure 1. Census tract-level discrepancies in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for December 2015 and American Community Survey (ACS) for 2013-2017 (5-year population estimates) at the census block group and census tract level, for reported broadband availability in Virginia. The discrepancy is computed as the percent FCC availability less percent ACS subscriptions, reported as absolute values.  Darker shades indicate larger discrepancies in reported broadband availability between the two data sources. The discrepancies across data sources make it challenging to study broadband deployment in the United States.

Distinguished Professor in Biocomplexity, Biocomplexity Institute

Professor of Public Health Sciences, School of Medicine

Research Associate Professor

Acting Division Director

Research Professor

Senior Project Manager

In the News

McDonald S, Sawhney R, Savchyn K, Pristavec T, Goldstein J, Shipp S. (2020) Broadband Coverage in the US: When Sources Disagree, Data Science for the Public Good 2019: US Broadband Coverage Discrepancy Map, MethodSpace, Sage Publishing.