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Rural Areas Still Lag Behind In Digital Technology Adoption

Rural adults are less likely to have access to high-speed Internet, and the devices needed to use it.
File: Amy Mayer
Harvest Public Media
Rural adults are less likely to have access to high-speed Internet, and the devices needed to use it.

People that live in rural areas are more connected to the internet than they’ve ever been, but they still lag well-behind their urban and suburban counterparts in access to high-speed Internet, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Roughly two-thirds of rural Americans have a broadband internet connection at home, Pew suggests. That’s a much higher rate than just ten years ago, when only one-third of rural Americans had broadband at home. Rural residents, however, are still 10 percentage points less likely to have broadband access at home than people in cities and suburbs.

“Although technology is becoming more integrated into the lives of all Americans, there is still a pretty big gap between those who live in rural areas, and those who live elsewhere,” says Monica Anderson, a Pew researcher.

The digital divide is present in adoption of certain technologies as well. While use and ownership of tablets and smartphones has been on the rise in rural areas, it too lags behind urban adoption of mobile technology. According to Pew’s survey, adults in rural America are between seven and 12 percentage points less likely than urban and suburban dwellers to own and use a smartphone, desktop computer, laptop or tablet.

The survey also finds that about one-in-five rural adults never use the internet, about double the number of people in cities who say the same thing.

Though rural Americans are less likely to have access to broadband internet, or the devices needed to use it, they’re also less likely to call for additional government resources to gain that access. States and the federal government have spent millions trying to incentivize internet companies to build more broadband infrastructure in rural areas. But in another Pew survey, only 36 percent of rural adults said the government should provide subsidies to help low-income Americans purchase high-speed home internet service.

That survey found more support for those subsidies from urban and suburban residents. 

Copyright 2017 Harvest Public Media

As KUNC’s reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.