Many Americans take high-speed, broadband internet access for granted. But millions of rural residents lack this benefit, placing them at a disadvantage.
- About 24 million Americans, mostly rural, lack broadband access.
Broadband is high-speed internet access that’s always on and faster than dial-up access. In America, lack of broadband access is chiefly a rural problem. More than 31 percent of rural Americans don’t have this high-speed internet access, compared to only 4 percent of urban dwellers.
- High-speed internet access is essential in today’s economy and culture.
Access to affordable and reliable broadband “has become one of the most critical infrastructure challenges of our time, just like electricity, transportation and roadways were in the past,” the American Bar Association reports. “Extending broadband to rural America is critical for many well-documented reasons, including robust economic growth, enriched educational opportunities, increased access to healthcare through telemedicine, improved public services and safety, and civic engagement.”
- Low-income and mostly minority rural areas are the likeliest to lack broadband access.
Broadband availability tends to be lower in counties with significant African American and Native American populations, according to a study by the nonprofit group Third Way. The study also found that broadband availability is 15 percentage points lower in the 1,498 U.S. counties that experienced net business loss “of at least 5 percent from 2005 to 2015 compared to the 595 counties that experienced net business growth of at least 5 percent.”
- Numerous factors impede rural expansion of broadband access.
The Third Way study found that impediments to wider rural broadband access include: lengthy wait times for governments to review and approve providers’ projects; time-consuming and costly tasks of acquiring permits from various state, local, and/or federal agencies, which often require fees; and lack of financial incentives to bring broadband access to sparsely populated regions.
- The coronavirus pandemic makes broadband access especially crucial.
Shelter-at-home orders have made Americans more dependent than ever on fast, reliable internet access for education, health care, food supplies and other needs. The ABA says students “are trying to attend school through distance learning, and medical professionals are trying to use telemedicine to expand access to much-needed services, but inadequate broadband is hampering those efforts in many geographic areas.”