Rates of broadband adoption in non-metropolitan households increased from 10 percent to 57 percent, mirroring an increase of adoption for people in metro regions, between 2003 to 2010. By 2010, household broadband adoption in metro areas had grown to about 70 percent of homes.
Despite that huge increase in broadband adoption since 2003, the broadband adoption gap between metro and non-metro areas is about 13 percent in 2010, about the same as the gap was in 2003.
But the most rural counties experienced significant improvements in broadband adoption between 2008 and 2011, a study conducted by Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University), Roberto Gallardo (Mississippi State University), and Sharon Strover (University of Texas), has found.
Broadband and economic health are linked in rural areas, the researchers found. That is not a surprise. What is not clear is whether the relationship is “causal.” As you would expect, and as other studies have found, broadband adoption is positively correlated with household income and education: higher income households and households headed by college educated persons have higher rates of broadband adoption.
As you also would expect, adoption is negatively correlated with age: younger households buy broadband access services at a higher rate.
Low levels of adoption, providers and broadband availability were associated with lower median household income, higher levels of poverty, and decreased numbers of firms and total employment in 2011.
Increases in broadband adoption between 2008 and 2010 were correlated with higher levels of median household income and total employment for non-metro counties.
What isn’t absolutely clear is whether broadband “causes” economic development, or whether economic development “causes” broadband adoption.
As other research also has suggested, the leading reason people don’t use broadband is that they do not find it valuable, the study found. The percentage of respondents who say they would use it, but cannot buy it, is shrinking, the researchers also found.
There are lots of ways to “spin” the rather steady gap in rates of broadband adoption between rural and urban areas. What remains clear is that “demand” is now the issue, not “supply.” For the most part, people who do not use broadband have some reason other than “I can’t buy it” for not using broadband.
Nor does the urban-rural gap necessarily tell us too much, beyond the demonstration of "difference." If one assumes that older and poorer households buy broadband at lower rates, age and income alone would account for adoption differences.
Edited by Rachel Ramsey