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Don Albrecht is the Director of the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University.

AlbrechtThe recently published report titled Rural Broadband Availability and Adoption: Evidence, Policy Challenges, and Options, shows that while broadband, or high speed Internet access, has become an integral part of everyday life in the majority of American households and the persistence of a rural-urban “digital divide” has prompted concerns that rural areas are falling further behind urban areas by failing to fully attain the numerous benefits resulting from broadband use.

Utilizing a variety of recent data sources, Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University), Roberto Gallardo (Mississippi State University) and Sharon Strover (University of Texas) reported that there is a 13 percent adoption rate gap between rural and urban areas, the same gap that existed in 2003.  Further, this adoption gap has increased among low income, low education and elderly persons.

A significant reason for lower adoption rates among rural residents is lower levels of broadband availability and lower broadband speeds.  Additionally, rural areas have higher proportions of households with low incomes, low education levels and elderly persons, and these factors also contribute to lower broadband adoption rates.

The data also make it apparent that broadband is an economic driver in rural areas.  Higher rates of broadband availability and adoption are associated with higher household incomes, lower levels of poverty and increases in the number of firms and total employment.

The authors recommend targeted education and training programs to assist populations with lower adoption rates.  They question whether or not smart phones “solve” the digital divide, and recommend careful examination of policies that limit the capacity of municipal or public-private sources of broadband.

This study of broadband availability was made possible by a grant from NARDeP (National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center) which is an initiative of the Regional Rural Development Centers.  The report utilizes data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), the National Broadband Map (NBM) and the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477.

Click here to read the full report.