High-speed broadband may seem readily available in the United States, but new research has found discrepancies in access between rural and urban areas. Research from Purdue University, “An X-Ray of Broadband Access in the Upper Midwest,” examined the midwestern geographic region and explored the broadband footprint of Census block groups located in completely urban, mostly urban, mostly rural, and completely rural areas. They mapped access to the speed the Federal Communications Commission employs as the threshold to define broadband—25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps (upload), or 25/3 for short. Two additional speed thresholds were also examined: 25/25 Mbps and 1/1 Gbps.
A few takeaways from the study:
- As of 2017, about 10% of housing units in Indiana did not have access to 25/3, equating to roughly 673,000 residents.
- 62% of housing units in completely rural areas had access to 25/3 versus 99% in urban areas.
- A higher share of completely urban neighborhoods had access to symmetrical 25/25 Mbps across the region compared to completely rural.
- In Illinois, 92.9% of housing units in completely urban neighborhoods had access to 25/25 Mbps compared to only 39.9% in completely rural neighborhoods, a 53 percentage points difference.
- As of 2017, the six-state region had 23.1 million housing units, or about 52.4 million residents. Of these, approximately 10.8 million housing units (46.9 %), or about 23.7 million residents, lacked access to 25/25 Mbps broadband.
In looking at periods and access, the researchers noted: “While access to 25/3 has improved between 2014 and 2017 in the region, there is still a serious gap between urban and rural areas.”
The “Digital Divide” Affects Many Communities
In addition to differences in access to broadband between rural and urban households, lack of internet accessibility and availability affects many communities. In 2018, 50% of American senior citizens, 76% of those who have not completed high school and 55% of those living in households with an annual income under $30,000 did not have broadband internet at home. Paper-based communication is an essential part of many people’s lives, including people with disabilities, low-income families, and those without computer skills.
Get more facts about how the push to digital may negatively affect many people.