This week the Small Business Administrations Office of Advocacy released a new report called “Accessing the Internet in Rural America.”
The report documents what residents of rural Colorado know well — that rural areas lag urban areas in gaining high-speed internet access. This new report analyzes recent survey data on subscriptions to the internet through three popular types of technology.
As could be expected, the report reveals that areas with lower population density also have lower subscription rates for traditional and mobile broadband, but higher subscription rates for satellite.
According to the 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is charged with monitoring the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability and each year releases a report describing internet availability. According to its most recent report, in 2017, high-speed internet was available to about 93.5 percent of the total population through fixed terrestrial technologies like cable. But Internet access via fiber broadband is available only to about 73.6 percent of the rural population. High-speed internet is available through satellites to virtually the entire population.
The broadband fiber discrepancy between total population and rural population exists due to the lower instances of installation of broadband fiber in rural communities. This requires those who live in areas without broadband, such as Chalk Creek Canyon, to use satellites for Internet access.
The impact of Internet access is not just a matter of residential use. It is affecting economic opportunity. In fact, according to the 2017 report titled “The Retreat of the Rural Entrepreneur,” the lack of broadband is a documented fact, impacting the formation and success of rural entrepreneurial businesses, contributing to economic inequity.
When it comes to subscriptions for mobile services, the results also reveal the disparity between urban and rural areas. According to the SBA Office of Advocacy, about 73 percent of all U.S. households had mobile broadband subscriptions in 2017. But there is an inequity between high-density urban and low-density rural areas, with higher subscription rates in areas with higher density. There is also variation in the geographic areas of service.
The report reveals the financial inequity of access to the Internet, with rural areas paying substantially more for access. Subscription rates vary considerably across rural areas. For instance, there are lower traditional broadband subscription rates in the southern states, while the upper Midwest has experienced higher rates.
In the South, where fixed geographic subscription rates are low, mobile broadband subscription rates are high. In the upper Midwest, where fixed terrestrial broadband subscription rates are high, mobile broadband subscription rates are low. And in low population density areas, there was a negative correlation between mobile broadband rates and fixed terrestrial broadband subscription rates. This is consistent with the limited availability of some technologies in rural communities and reliance by those communities on whatever technology may be locally available.
One significant implication of this SBA report is that the observable patterns appear to support the formation of business policies to encourage rural broadband development and deployment. The need for such policies seems to be becoming increasingly more urgent.