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Rural Broadband Gap Closing

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Rural America is closing the gap in broadband usage. Two years ago, only nine percent of rural homes had high-speed Internet, compared to 22 percent of urban and suburban America. At the end of 2005, broadband Internet had made its way into 24 percent of rural homes, compared to 39 percent closer to the city.

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“When the world ends, I want to be in Kentucky. Every thing happens 20 years later here.”

By contrast, nearly a third (29 percent) of rural homes are still using dial-up, compared to 21 percent of non-rural homes, according Pew Internet & American Life.

The factors contributing to slower adoption of broadband are thought to be the expense of wiring rural areas and demographic factors that seem to coincide with broadband usages. Higher concentrations of older, less educated, and lower income households is thought to be key in the adoption rate.

But lack of availability, or perceived lack, of availability also seem to be driving forces. Only 15 percent of non-rural Internet users said broadband was unavailable compared to 27 percent of rural users. But more telling is that 35 percent in rural areas didn’t know one way or the other.

Other telling instances are what people are doing online. Only 21 percent of those in rural areas said they’d read a blog, compared to 28 percent of others.

“Although no one knows if there is any geography to blogging, a vague notion that young urban hipsters’ are most tuned in to the blogosphere might be behind blog-reading being less popular in rural areas,” writes Pew Associate Director John Horrigan.

A more grass roots (and informal) survey may reveal that Virgil at the local garage and Jamie at the nearby horse farm not only have little need for blogs, but there’s a good chance they’ve never heard even heard the word. This is even true in more urban areas like London, where a recent survey showed many Londoners confused the word “blogging” with “dogging.”

Though high speed connections seem dictate the intensity of online use (how often and how long), there were marked differences in for what purposes rural Netizens go online. Rural users were more likely to download screensavers and computer games, take a class for credit, and to participate in fantasy sports.

The author of the report muses that the distance from urban centers plays a key role in this behavior, but as a rural dweller may tell you, it may also have to with boredom.

Outside rural America, online use seems a bit more practical. City folk are more likely to bank online, peruse the classifieds, and to make travel arrangements.

Horrigan argues that in-person banking is part of a “going to town” routine that persists even if online banking is available. For many in the countryside, getting out of the house is a big deal as staying in will interrupt a valuable social aspect-a concept perhaps more difficult to imagine in more densely populated areas.

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Rural Broadband Gap Closing
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