US Broadband Infrastructure: Geographic Trends

By Radhika Shivaprasad, Heather Sabel, Samuel Kornstein

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the importance of digital resources, but about one in ten Americans say that they often have problems connecting to the internet at home1. This Digital Divide, or lack of access to fixed broadband in some parts of the country, is important to address so that all Americans can access essential digital resources.

We recently published a report in collaboration with ACA Connects that evaluates the extent to which geography plays a role in the Digital Divide, and whether this gap is a function of availability vs adoption of fixed broadband.

Maps showing availability vs adoption

Availability gaps tend to be localized to extremely rural parts of the U.S., but adoption gaps are widespread across both rural and non-rural areas

There are at least 3.8 million households known to the FCC that lack at least 25/3 Mbps broadband service (i.e., the FCC’s current broadband definition). The largest gaps in availability of these service levels tend to be in rural parts of the U.S. This is largely due to greater costs to expand networks in these areas, and as a result, market forces alone have not sufficiently incentivized providers to expand service.

Although significant availability gaps are an issue in many rural areas, adoption gaps occur in both rural and non-rural geographies.

29% of rural households and 28% of non-rural households do not subscriber to fixed broadband when it is available

Even when fixed broadband is available, 29% of rural homes and 28% of non-rural homes do not subscribe. This statistic reflects the reality that adoption gaps are more commonly a consequence of household income than geography—36% of all households without a fixed broadband connection make below $20k in household income a year, while only 14% make above $75k in household income.

In order to close the Digital Divide in the U.S., policymakers will need to address these gaps for both rural and non-rural Americans.<>

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1: “Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021”, Pew Research Center, June 2021