Poor broadband access worries businesses

Posted on Sep 29, 2020 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive
Posted by of Insight Publications

More than half of all businesses responding to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s sixth monthly survey to monitor the COVID-19 impact in Wisconsin say access to broadband internet is limiting employees’ ability to work from home.

Responding businesses pointed to internet bandwidth (53 percent) and availability (29 percent) as significant barriers, even though only 15 percent indicated lack of access limits their ability to offer online services. One-quarter of respondents have added new online services since the beginning of the pandemic.

Jeff Sachse, interim director of UW-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research and Services, says the broadband findings are especially interesting when considered with findings from last month’s survey.

“Given that a large majority of businesses have continuously expressed some level of concern regarding adopting work-from-home policies, we now know that a lack of high-speed broadband is one of the barriers that likely feeds this concern,” he says. “This factor also has impacted businesses’ ability to pivot into new markets and services, as it is likely that business owners are not confident they can manage these services remotely.”

In addition to concerns about broadband access, respondents reported renewed losses in August, including:

  • $1.4 million in inventory losses
  • $4.2 million in lost income
  • $804,000 in lost wages and productivity
  • $23.9 million in other financial losses

Responding businesses also continue to face a difficult labor market, adding only 70 net employees over the month.

“The renewed downturn in August is connected both to the end of the summer tourism season and the continued increase in COVID-19 cases,” Sachse says. “This is reflected both in the losses identified and the priority that businesses continue to express for increased customer contact.”

In addition, less than 30 percent of businesses applied for financial assistance — the lowest level observed over the six months. “This is likely due to an ongoing lack of resources as Congress continues to consider new stimulus measures,” Sasche says.

The September survey also focused on supply chain issues. One-third of businesses have been forced to find alternate suppliers this year, with 62 percent of those businesses indicating they found a Wisconsin-based supplier to meet their needs. Similarly, 38 percent of the businesses reported exploring or expressing interest in reshoring at least some level of production. Sachse noted that it is unclear whether such interest will increase as the pandemic persists.

The survey is a partnership of UW-Oshkosh, New North, Inc., the state’s other eight regional development organizations and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.