Rural Americans Adopt Broadband, But Gap Remains

The latest survey of broadband use finds that rural residents are adopting this technology quickly, but the gap between rural and urban remains.

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Rural Americans increased their adoption of broadband Internet technology at a rapid rate over the last year, according to a report released today by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, but rural communities still lag far behind urban regions in the spread of fast Internet connections.

The percentage of rural residents with broadband connections increased from 38 percent in 2008 to 46 percent this year, a 21 percent increase in just one year. In 2006, just 25 percent of those living in rural America had home broadband.

But rural America still lags behind the rest of the country in broadband adoption. The gap between rural and urban use of home broadband remains unchanged since last year. (The 20 percentage point gap between rural and urban adoption of broadband found in 2006 has been consistent in all the Pew surveys, even as increasing numbers of people adopt broadband.) Rural residence  remains one of the strongest predictors that a household will lack broadband access.

Pew Internet & American Life Project
Who has broadband access and who doesn’t? A new survey shows that rural location is one of the strongest predictors that a household will lack broadband.

(To find a copy of the report, go here.)

The Pew Internet project conducts regular polls of how — and how many — Americans are using the web. In this survey, Pew surveyed 2,253 Americans, including 561 people with cell phone numbers. 

This year’s survey showed that most groups that have lagged in adopting broadband in the past made significant progress in the last year. For instance, last year only 42% of those households with $20,000 to $30,000 in annual income had broadband. In this survey, Pew found that 53 percent of this relatively low-income group now had broadband.

African-Americans, however, experienced a second consecutive year of slow growth in broadband adoption. This year, 46 percent of African Americans had broadband at home, up only slightly from 43 percent in 2008 and 40 percent in 2007.

Pew Internet & American Life
The percentage of rural Americans with broadband connections has risen steadily, but the gap between rural and urban adoption of broadband remains constant.

The Pew survey found that the current economic troubles are not greatly affecting Americans’ use of broadband. “Broadband adoption appears to have been largely immune to the effects of the current economic recession,” according to the report. Pew found that instead of giving up broadband, Americans were scaling back their use of cable television service or canceling cell phone plans.

And Pew found that more than half of all Americans believe that broadband connections are “very important” in at least one aspect of their lives, especially in connecting with civic and community life. Roughly a third of those with home broadband connections find the Internet “very important” for keeping up with their community, communicating with health care providers, or contributing to their area’s economic vitality.

The Pew survey was particularly attentive to determining how rural Americans used broadband. In this survey, “rural” is defined as those living in “non-metro” counties as designated by the Census Bureau.

Here are some of the findings about rural broadband:

• Rural residents are much more likely to have DSL connections than cable. About half of those in rural communities with broadband used DSL compared to 31 percent in urban areas. Only 28 percent of rural residents got their broadband through cable compared to 43 percent in urban communities.

• Rural residents are much more likely than those living in cities to use home dial-up to connect to the Internet. Only 12 percent of home broadband users live in rural America. However, 32 percent of home dial-up users live in rural communities.

Pew Internet & American Life
Rural residents are much more likely to have a DSL connection while cable is rare.

• People with high incomes (over $75,000 a year), those with a college degree, those with a minor child in the household and those employed full time were more likely to have home broadband. Having low levels of education, being of older age, being African American and living in rural America all were traits that significantly reduced the likelihood people would adopt broadband, according to the report.

• The pool of Americans using dial-up is shrinking….fast. In 2002, Pew found that 38 percent of all Americans had dial-up. By 2009, this rate had shrunk to 7 percent. The two groups most likely to say they would like to switch from dial-up to broadband were parents with minor children and people in rural communities.

•Some 17% of the adults who use dial-up or don’t have a home Internet connection at all say that broadband service is not available to them. This group is disproportionately rural and remains unchanged from a year ago.

Pew Internet & American Life
The cost of broadband continues to rise.

 

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