Friday, February 18, 2011

40 percent of rural Americans lack broadband

You don't have to tell anyone in rural America that not everyone has broadband Internet access, but now the national media is starting to catch on. "As the world embraces its digital age — two billion people now use the Internet regularly — the line delineating two Americas has become more broadly drawn," Kim Severson of The New York Times reports. "There are those who have reliable, fast access to the Internet, and those, like about half of the 27,867 people here in Clarke County, [Ala.] who do not." A Department of Commerce report released Thursday reveals just 60 percent of people in rural America have broadband Internet service.

"That is 10 percent less than urban households," Severson writes. "Over all, 28 percent of Americans do not use the Internet at all." In conjunction with the Commerce Department report the Obama Administration this week released a national broadband map, "which took five years and $200 million to develop and shows a number of discrepancies in the quality and availability of broadband access between rural and urban communities," Severson writes. Brian Depew, an assistant director of the Center for Rural Affairs, notes "This is like electricity was. This is a critical utility."

In Clarke County, where the median household income is $27,388, the available cell phone and Internet options are too expensive, Severeson reports. "For most people out here, satellite is all you can get, and it’s $70 a month," Joyce Graham, who oversees Web-based classes at Coffeeville High School, said. "Now who is going to pay that? This is a poor, rural county." While broadband service can help drive rural economic development, it means more that that, says Depew. "You often hear people talk about broadband from a business development perspective, but it’s much more significant than that," he told Severson. "This is about whether rural communities are going to participate in our democratic society. If you don’t have effective broadband, you are cut out of things that are really core to who we are as a country."  (Maps below by The New York Times, of wired access, below; wireless access, bottom. Blue indicates it is available. Click on map for larger image.) (Read more)

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