New Report Explores Intersections of Real Estate and Broadband

With the pandemic-induced rise in remote work, distance learning, e-commerce, and telehealth, a new report published by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), sheds light on how the demand for high-speed Internet connectivity has “helped shift the real estate industry itself from thinking just in terms of physical space to also considering how to engage within a virtual environment.”

The ULI report, Broadband and Real Estate: Understanding the Opportunity, identifies the challenges and opportunities in addressing the digital divide and how real estate professionals and land-use planners can play a central role in designing and deploying broadband networks to meet the growing connectivity needs of communities everywhere.

The report explores four instances when community planners placed technology at the forefront of their development projects and details the positive impact it had on the projects -- from a neighborhood in Washington that designed its fiber-to-the-home network with an emphasis on sustainable development and energy efficiency, to a business and tech hub in Northern Virginia, whose owner purchased seven blocks of CBRS spectrum in 2020 to accelerate the deployment of 5G in the area, establishing it as a center for innovation.

Broadband and Real Estate [pdf] also provides guidance on how real estate planners and professionals can be pivotal in creating more equitable and competitive Internet access ecosystems. For example, the report recommends owners of multifamily properties, or MDUs, install carrier neutral wiring sets to each unit, so MDU residents always have a choice among broadband service providers. The report states owners of MDUs should own all of the Internet infrastructure in their building themselves, so it is independent and the property can not be monopolized by a single Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Some key takeaways from ULI’s Broadband and Real Estate report are:

  • “As a result of its fundamental role in shaping the built environment, the real estate industry can be a major voice in the planning of future [I]nternet infrastructure decisions and can ensure that the industry’s needs are met while it is also being a partner with regional planning authorities and providers.”

  • The benefits to quality-of-life real estate professionals have the potential to make in the communities they work in, including through economic development, mobility improvements, cost savings and energy expense savings for residents, and more. 

  • The real estate applications of broadband connectivity, including proptech, or “property technology, an umbrella term for leveraging technology to improve the way people research, rent, buy, sell, and manage a property in new and innovative ways. Examples could include building sensors, control mechanisms, and programs that allow a property manager or owner to control more aspects of the building than ever before and to do so more easily and to a finer degree than has ever been possible. Proptech also includes elements such as climate tech; contech, or construction technology; and fintech, or financial technology.”

  • And, the detail that “the overall real estate market is becoming more and more sensitive to [I]nternet connectivity levels. Homes with access to high-speed fiber connections have been shown to sell for around 5 percent more than do those without, and office and retail property uses now require connectivity for their daily functions.”

“Closing the digital divide is an area where the real estate community can lead rather than follow,” Chuck Kirby, vice president of smart communities at the Center for Innovative Technology, said in the report. “The most important thing is for real estate leaders, HOAs [homeowners associations], etc., to reach out to their localities and ask to be more involved with the planning. The real estate industry has a huge stake in this but doesn’t yet realize how influential they can be in it.”

Read Broadband and Real Estate [pdf] or download the report on ULI’s website