The "digital divide" in now about adoption

Sep 2, 2013


The “digital divide” between urban and rural areas used to be all about access to broadband internet service.  Today it is much more about adoption where access is now available. 

Despite great progress in recent years in providing broadband service to rural areas, the gap in the adoption rate for the internet between rural and urban areas where access is available remained the same 13% in 2010 as in 2003.  This is based on a recent report analyzing both broadband availability and adoption prepared for the National Agricultural & Rural Development Policy Center.

Household Broadband Adoption Rates by Metro / NM Status, 2003 and 2010.
Credit From “Current Population Survey Internet Use Supplement,” 2003 & 2010.

The urban-rural adoption gap is even greater than 13% among lower income, less educated, black, Hispanic and older rural residents – in fact the gap was higher in 2010 than 2003.  The chart below shows reasons for not using the internet even when access is available among all rural residents.

Primary Reason for Non-adoption of Broadband in Non-metropolitan Households, 2003 and 2010.
Credit From “Current Population Survey Internet Use Supplement,” 2003 & 2010.

Across the High Plains region, county-level adoption rates are typical of most rural areas with scatterings of counties with very high rates (>80%) and low rates (<40%), as shown in the map below.

County-level Household Broadband Adoption Rates, 2011.
Credit From FCC Form 477 Data, 2011

And while the study’s focus is on adoption rates, there are still significant number of counties across the High Plains where there is still no broadband availability for a significant portion of the population (>50% in some counties).  See the map below.

Percent of Population with No Broadband Availability by Metropolitan Status, 2010.

The lingering gap in internet adoption is a concern for the study’s authors, given the opportunities for income generation and improving education from effective use of broadband Internet.  They recommend shifting government policies dealing with broadband that have traditionally focused exclusively on providing infrastructure to also significantly address adoption once the service is available.  To make their point, they note that the much touted $7.2 billion broadband component of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act only put about 3.5% of those funds toward encouraging sustainable adoption.

For more information on the study’s findings, implications and recommendations, the authors have written two articles that appear in the Daily Yonder, a website for rural news.  The first article focuses on broadband availability in rural areas and the second article on adoption rates and adoption factors where access is available.  For a more ground-level view of the difficulties of encouraging more adoption, the Texas Tribune has an article about how some rural East Texas individuals are coming to terms with the practical necessities of finally “getting on the net”.