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Blog Entries from June 5, 2013

Breaking Down the Urban-Rural Broadband Divide

Cover of May 2013 report

Cross-post by David Beede, Research Economist, Economics and Statistics Administration and Anne Neville, Director, State Broadband Initiative, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

While broadband availability has expanded for all parts of the United States, NTIA data has consistently shown that urban areas have greater access to broadband at faster speeds than rural areas. In a new report released today, NTIA and the Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) delve deeper into the differences between broadband availability in rural and urban areas.

This latest report is part of a series from NTIA that examines broadband availability data in greater detail. One key finding of the new report suggests that, in many cases, the closer a community lies to a central city, the more likely it is to have access to broadband at higher speeds. This is significant because some lower-density communities are located closer to the central city of a metropolitan area and have more access to faster broadband speeds than higher-density communities that are more distant from a central city.

Rural areas can be either within metropolitan areas (exurbs) or outside of metro areas (very rural areas), and while they each have approximately the same share of the total population (more than 9 percent) there is a wide gap in broadband availability between these two types of communities. The report shows that in 2011, 76 percent of residents in exurbs, which generally ring suburbs, had access to basic wireline broadband, defined as advertised speeds of 3 Mbps download and 768 kbps upload. In contrast, 65 percent of very rural residents, who live outside of metropolitan areas, had basic wired service. This disparity between exurban and very rural areas is even greater when it comes to access to much faster broadband service of at least 25 Mpbs. Only 18 percent of very rural residents had access to broadband at this speed compared to nearly 38 percent of exurban residents.  There are also significant gaps between exurbs and very rural areas when it comes to access to wireless broadband.