The number of people who own a computer or mobile device that can access the internet is continually increasing, as is internet usage itself. It seems to be unchanging though, that people in rural areas are less likely to be connected.
Studies from 1998 through to 2015 show that internet connectivity in rural areas throughout the United States is consistently between 6 and 10 percent lower than in suburban and metropolitan areas. Though internet usage is continually increasing in both rural and urban areas, the discrepancy is showing no signs of decreasing, meaning rural internet access is neither catching up to urban access nor showing signs of doing so.
Possible reasons for the discrepancy
Age – Senior citizens comprise a much larger percentage of the rural population than of the urban and suburban population, 22 percent compared to 14% and 16%. Statistically, only about 17 percent of senior residents in rural areas go online at all. This along with the fact that far fewer young adults, the age group most likely to go online, live in rural areas may account for some of the discrepancies.
Availability – Nearly 30 percent of rural residents report that the ISP they use is the only one available to them, less than one-third as many urban and suburban residents said the same thing. This means that the availability of internet access through an Internet Service Provider is significantly lower in rural areas.
Economics – One might assume that people in a lower income bracket are less likely to have internet access, but it doesn’t seem to be so. Families with an annual income over $100,000 showed a 2% lower internet usage rate in rural areas. This gap increases to just 3% in low-income families earning under $25,000 a year.
Education – This seems to be the great divide. Rural residents with a college degree are just one percent less likely to use the internet than their urban counterparts. For those with some college, the difference quickly expands to 4%. If you live in a rural area and have just a high school diploma, you’re 6% less likely to access the internet. For those with no diploma of any kind, the digital divide between rural and urban residents is 7%.
Not only are rural residents less likely to have internet access, for those who do, usage levels are much lower. This is likely due to the quality and availability of internet access. A much higher percentage of rural residents only have access outside of work or home, limiting their internet usage. Given that the quality of internet access is lower, rural residents will spend less time on video sites like YouTube.
Companies such as Wave Direct offer better, higher quality internet penetration in areas of rural Texas and Ontario. This may start to close the digital divide – slowly. However, more than likely in the US and worldwide, there will always be some discrepancy between urban and rural areas.