Broadband Divide & Federal Assistance Report: Big gap between rural and urban

A federal report on broadband is always great because it helps us compare how we’re doing in Minnesota and gives the lowdown on tools available from federal resources. The downside of a federal report, is that the data is usually a little dated. The report (Broadband Internet Access and the Digital Divide: Federal Assistance Programs) released last week is based on broadband statistics from December 2015.

The report feels like the notes you leave behind when you leave a job – you try to give the new worker the low down on what’s happened, what’s happening and resources that are there to help. There are also some statistics to help benchmark where we are with broadband access. I’m going to paste the table of contents below (at the bottom of the post) – if you ever need the basics on topics listed, this is your resource.

Otherwise I thought the urban/rural divide detail in the report was most interesting. Spoiler alert – rural is still lagging behind and behind even more are tribal lands and US Territories – the table below shows who lacks access:


And here’s how Minnesota compares:

Total percentage without access:

  • US – 10
  • MN – 12

Total urban percentage without access:

  • US – 4
  • MN – 1

Total rural percentage without access:

  • US – 39
  • MN – 43

Interesting to see Minnesota’s urban areas are rocking it. Minnesota’s rural areas are behind (4 percentage points!) the national curve. No wonder the discussion in Minnesota can seem so fractious. The difference between the urban/rural market is even more extreme in Minnesota than on a national level. I know myself when I’m at home in St Paul, it’s hard for me to imagine there are people without access – until hear from communities living with 43 percent lack of coverage. Or I visit and try to fit in a little work between meetings. Not an option.

The report offers a little advice for policymakers…

To the extent that Congress may consider various options for further encouraging broadband deployment and adoption, a key issue is how to strike a balance between providing federal assistance for unserved and underserved areas where the private sector may not be providing acceptable levels of broadband service, while at the same time minimizing any deleterious effects that government intervention in the marketplace may have on competition and private sector investment.

I might extend that advice to remind policymakers that there is a difference between rural and urban. Affordability, adoption, higher use – those are issues in urban and rural areas. But with connectivity there is a difference. And as I noted, the numbers in the report are dated. But then they are looking at dated speeds too; the report looks at speeds of 25/3 – in Minnesota we are targeted 100/20 for 2026.

Here’s the report Table of Contents:

Introduction 1
Status of Broadband in the United States  1
Broadband Availability 2
Broadband Adoption  5
Broadband in Rural Areas 7
Broadband and the Federal Role  9
Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 9
The National Broadband Plan  10
Federal Broadband Programs 12
The Universal Service Concept and the FCC12
Universal Service and Broadband  13
Rural Utilities Service Programs  16
P.L. 111-5: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009  16
Other Federal Programs and Initiatives 17
Broadband Opportunity Council  17
BroadbandUSA  18
Appalachian Regional Commission 18
HUD ConnectHome  18
Digital Literacy Initiative 19
Legislation in the 114th Congress  19
Concluding Observations  23

Tables Table 1. Percentage of Broadband Technologies by Types of Connection  2
Table 2. Percentage of Americans Lacking Access to Fixed Broadband  3
Table 3. Americans Without Access to Fixed Broadband by State and U.S. Territory 3
Table 4. Estimated Percentage of Americans with Multiple Options for Fixed Broadband 5
Table 5. Broadband Adoption  6
Table 6. Broadband Availability, Rural vs. Urban Areas  7

This entry was posted in Policy, Research, Rural by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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