Digitunity is a national organization working to close technology gaps. They recently published a report (Rural Communities & Digital Device Ownership: Barriers & Opportunities) on device ownership in rural areas. They looked at three important factors that speak to the need and hampered solution to low computer ownership:
- Current ownership and rural demographics that do not match up with computer ownership
- Fewer options for getting refurbished computers or discount devices (even due to ACP)
- Fewer organizations offering help connect users to computers
The challenge for households?
If universal computer ownership is the goal, this “status quo” means rural communities face an uphill battle. There are a larger percentage of households to reach and a larger number of miles to cover to reach them.
The challenge for business support?
Rural locations typically have fewer options for supplying devices than more urban areas. Local businesses are often an important source of previously used computers. They feature heavily in donation efforts for many device drives (Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, 2021).
The challenge for nonprofit/community support?
Technology-focused nonprofit spending is especially low in rural locations, with $40 spent by an urban nonprofit for each $1 spent by a rural nonprofit (Neuhoff & Dunckelman, 2011). Other studies found that organizational capacity is lacking in rural nonprofits (Walters, 2020). Part of this may be due to significantly more square miles being covered per organization (Neuhoff & Dunckelman, 2011).
Build on What You Have
Rural areas tend to have a higher percentage of lower-income and elderly individuals, and less robust nonprofits and libraries to engage with them. However, other support
networks also exist in rural America, such as religious organizations, book or quilting clubs, or farm cooperatives that often work with these exact demographics.
- Develop Rural-Urban Linkages
Distance to urban areas with device refurbishers or computer repair businesses is
another rural disadvantage. However, once a relationship is established, opportunities
exist for mutual benefit (Mayer et al., 2016).