Are We Finally Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural America?


AUGUST, 2017



The Pew Research Center earlier this year shared a “good news, bad news” report on whether or not Americans really are making progress in narrowing the digital divide.

Three decades after the advent of the World Wide Web, Internet traffic, broadband adoption and smartphone and mobile web and mobile applications has skyrocketed.

During this time, through recessions and near financial collapse, and through political turmoil in the US and abroad, the facts show the rich have gotten richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class – disappearing.

Data points from the PRC:

Roughly three-in-ten adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year don’t own a smartphone. Nearly half don’t have home broadband services or a traditional computer. And a majority of lower-income Americans are not tablet owners. By comparison, many of these devices are nearly ubiquitous among adults from households earning $100,000 or more a year.
Higher-income Americans are also more likely to have multiple devices that enable them to go online. Two-thirds of adults living in high-earning households have home broadband services, a smartphone, a desktop or laptop computer and a tablet, compared with 17% of those living in low-income households.
And with fewer options for online access at their disposal, many lower-income Americans are relying more on smartphones. In 2016, one-fifth of adults living in households earning less than $30,000 a year were “smartphone-only” internet users – meaning they owned a smartphone but did not have broadband internet at home. This represents an increase from 12% in 2013. In contrast, only 4% of those living in households earning $100,000 or more fell into this category in either year.

Often low income people ONLY have a smart phone as a way to access the Internet, and they use their smartphones to do things like search and apply for jobs, check their benefits, arrange medical appointments for their children.

PRC points out that this is generationally impactful, saying “the disparity in online access is also apparent in what has been called the ‘homework gap,’ or the gap between school-age children who have access to high-speed Internet at home and those who don’t. Some 5 million school-age children do not have a broadband internet connection at home, with low-income households accounting for a disproportionate share.”

The digital divide has been a central topic in tech circles for decades with researchers, advocates and policymakers examining this issue. Just last month, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai reiterated his commitment to bringing high-speed internet services to low-income communities, though there are partisan differences in views of how this should be carried out.

Other Pew Research Center data show that while 81% of workers whose annual household income is $100,000 or more spend at least some of their day using the internet for work-related tasks, that share drops to 36% among workers living in lower-income households. Similarly, lower-income adults are less likely to say they “almost constantly” use the internet. And when it comes to their ability to use technology, lower-income Americans are more than twice as likely as those in other income groups to be classified as digitally unprepared.

The challenges are many and varied, but the fact remains that in what some consider to be the greatest and richest country on Earth, Americans are still suffering. We now have better ways to plan for and implement broadband for all, with improving business models, and a growing sense of urgency particularly among englighted millennials.

Our team is passionate about this, so passionate in fact that we have developed and are continuing to develop platforms and products like our Open Broadband Gateway, which makes it possible to bring multiple providers of access into a single unified network for developers in rural and other areas. And with our sophisticated and yet simple to use NOCPlan platform, it takes days instead of months or years to figure out where wholesale broadband is available, where geographically at what prices, with what speeds and service levels. We’re making it possible to “exchange” everything from information to services, which means we can dramatically improve the economics in a more competitive setting – everybody wins when we rationalize the investments and assets we have to bring service to more people.

To learn more about our NOCPlan platform, download our data sheet, or contact Join us in making a real dent in the divide!

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