As technology progresses in our world today, one of the most crucial tools people use for communication, entertainment, and information is the internet. With over 6 billion people living on this rock, more than half of the earth’s population is connected, which is no mean feat. Today, numerous individuals and communities depend on the internet and cannot imagine their lives without it.
The United States, which boasts one of the largest online markets globally, has over 307 million internet users within its borders. The private sector is largely responsible for providing internet connectivity across the country, using various technologies with alternating speeds and costs.
However, many communities, especially rural communities in the US, still lack sufficient infrastructure to enable their access to high-speed internet, which severely affects them as a high-speed internet connection is crucial to being a part of the world today, to be in the world and to be connected to the digital community.
The Connectivity gap
The Connectivity Gap, also known as the “Digital divide,” refers to the gap between those who have easy access to high-speed internet and those who don’t have due to various demographic factors. Despite still being able to access the internet, various groups struggle with unreliable internet, low broadband speeds, and lower performance devices due to the limitations imposed by the digital divide.
Rural Internet is the characteristic of internet connections in rural areas. These communities are usually situated outside towns and cities. The internet connections in these areas often have upload and download speeds that fall under 2mbPs. Studies showed that in 2003, 23% of the adult population in the US, which is approximately 46 million people, lived in rural communities. Over 52% of these rural dwellers use the internet for one thing. This shows a significant growth in the number of rural internet users.
Unfortunately, the communication technology present in urban and suburban communities is yet to be fully integrated into these rural areas. Even though there has been an increase in penetration rate in rural areas, the connectivity gap between high-speed internet connectivity in urban and rural areas remains relatively constant. In the United States, internet coverage varies from state to state. In 2011, Washington recorded that 80% of its population had access to high-speed internet, while New Mexico recorded only 60.4% of users.
The New Normal has prompted a massive urban exodus. More and more professionals are migrating to rural communities where they’ll have more space to live and work. Rural households pay more than urban households for less internet service.
Those living in rural areas of the country tend to have slower internet connections and fewer choices when it comes to ISPs. The digital divide remains concentrated in these areas. This places people living in such communities at a disadvantage.
The United States ranks 3rd globally based on the number of its population connected to the internet. Why then is Rural Internet still a problem, you may ask. Rural America has such bad internet may be due to how costly internet access is in the US.
There are other reasons responsible for poor connectivity in Rural America, and these stand as the biggest roadblocks to building infrastructure for the internet in rural communities in the US.
These reasons include:
Cost of Broadband Infrastructure
Broadband infrastructure is very costly to install and maintain. Private ISPs often cite Rural America's low person per square area nature as to why they cannot commit to more Rural Internet infrastructural endeavors. Installing Fiber, which is one of the major infrastructures for high-speed internet connectivity, is incredibly pricey and logistically difficult, especially in areas that have geographical or climate challenges.
Low government aid has also contributed to the lack of access to high-speed internet in Rural America. More public-private collaboration is needed to cushion the costs of dealing with the rural Internet, especially now that the internet is crucial to learning and commerce.
Low Number of Users Compared to Urban Areas
ISPs are more cautious when investing in rural America due to the number of potential customers that can be found in such areas. Since every major ISP focuses on maximizing profit, it is difficult for areas with a low person per square area densities to entice major broadband providers to their communities.
Unfortunately, such places are often rural communities. Even when some Rural communities reach out to major ISPs, they usually get offered Wi-Fi and Data Sticks, which are pricey and do not still guarantee access to high-speed internet.
Furthermore, existing large providers make it difficult for new ISPs to break into the market as they usually have an area already staked and may not want the competition.
Inaccurate Data Representations By ISPs
Major ISPs must submit reports on coverage areas and speeds to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These reports are rarely verified or double-checked. For example, an ISP may report that an entire area is covered by broadband.
When the data presented by the ISPs cannot be trusted, it is more difficult for resources to be allocated to the areas and communities that need them the most.
Racial and Socio-Economic Divides
Studies have shown that racial and socio-economic undertones also account for the poor internet experience in Rural America. Minority households, including Blacks and Hispanics, had a larger concentration in rural areas, and most families had only one computer shared by the entire household.
However, this can no longer be a viable excuse as technology makes it more likely for households to have more than one device with internet connection capabilities. With the influx of families and professionals from urban and suburban areas to rural communities, there is more and more need for ISPs to expand their services to rural communities.
Lack of Viable Alternatives
Most Rural communities have become more and more discontent with their rural internet realities. However, there is a lack of viable alternatives as the available options often come with problems that range from reliability to pricing and even unscrupulous practices like internet throttling.
Such alternatives, including Satellite coverage, Dial-up, and DSL, are also pricey, spotty, and feature slow upload and download speeds which can be frustrating. On top of all these, these options are barely serviceable, prompting rural communities to stick with their ISPs regardless of the Rural internet situation. This lack of competition also creates a lack of incentive for these ISPs to expand their High-speed connections to these rural communities.
High-speed internet connectivity has gone from being a luxury to becoming increasingly crucial to life. It is working and swiping cards for small businesses.
Nomad Internet is one ISP that collaborates with major network carriers to provide high-speed internet connections for rural households in the US. With affordable seamless 4G LTE packages and stellar customer service, it has become easier for Rural communities to enjoy uber-fast internet connections and combat the limitations of rural internet in these areas.
Unfortunately, the majority of rural America continues to suffer poor internet coverage by major ISPs because of the cost implications to the Providers. However, the economic ramifications of dealing with rural internet outweigh the cost implications.
Studies show that improved access to high-speed internet connectivity in rural areas increases jobs, population growth, more business formations and innovations, lower unemployment rates, and improved cost of living. These long-run benefits should spark a collaboration between public and private sectors to eradicate rural internet and ensure every American has access to high-speed internet.