Out of a total of over 331 Million Americans almost 46 Million live in sparsely populated rural areas of the country. Another 5 Million native Americans reside on Tribal land. And it’s no secret these Americans, often aptly termed forgotten citizens, do not have access to the same level of amenities and standard of living as their urban counterparts enjoy.
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America’s Rural-Urban Divide
From lower employment opportunities to poor infrastructure, healthcare, and educational facilities rural citizens lag behind in almost every sphere of life. No wonder that over 15 percent of Americans are living below the poverty line, and the figures are even higher when it comes to Americans living on tribal land.
Several governments have tried very hard to bridge this stark divide between rural and urban America with only limited levels of success. The reason is simple, the continental U.S. is massive, and dispatching Government services and infrastructure projects to each and every nook and corner is an extremely expensive and time-intensive process.
But just because it is hard to provide services to these citizens does not mean that we should give up altogether. Rural areas are home to a whopping 18 Million households and some 37 Million working-age adults, abandoning is both ethically repulsive and economically nonsensical.
The Provision Of Broadband Internet To Rural Communities
But not all is lost, the permeation of highspeed internet technologies and the accompanying digital boom is helping integrate Millions of Americans into the larger economy and consequently improving the economies of these areas.
I am not claiming that there is no digital divide between rural and urban Americans but during recent years the country has made large strides in overcoming it.
Don’t take my word for it the figures speak for themselves. Up until 2016 a mere 63 percent of rural Americans were connected to high-speed broadband; this figure has hit the 72 percent mark in 2021. In short, rural America saw a 9-point rise in internet access over just 5 years.
And while access to super-fast fiber internet is still a luxury many rural Americans cannot afford, modern satellite internet service providers like Hughesnet Internet have helped a lot of rural Americans upgrade their connections to broadband speed.
Before the introduction of these satellite-based technologies, rural Americans had to rely on vastly inferior Dial-Up Line (DSL ) connections. A technology that dates back to the previous century.
Other service providers like Elon Musk’s Starlink and Jeff Bezos’s Kuiper project are also rapidly expanding their satellite count with an eye on the rural market. But unlike more established providers like Hughesnet and Viasat, these services remain very expensive and out of the financial reach of the market segment they want to target.
But despite the impressive strides of the last decade we still have a very long way to go. Independent studies have highlighted that even in this day and age 17 percent of rural Americans and 21 percent of citizens residing on Tribal land lack access to high-speed broadband.
Seven in ten rural Americans still do not own a laptop or desktop and over half of them have stated they have to face serious connectivity issues on a day-to-day basis.
Connecting Rural Americans To The Digital Economy
Helping rural Americans connect to the internet is not about helping them stream movies on Netflix or facilitating their passion for binge-gaming or helping them watch cat videos. The stakes are much higher.
The increased connectivity that comes with access to high-speed broadband has the potential to inject Billions of Dollars into America’s rural economies. According to a recent study conducted by the tech giant Amazon, increased broadband connectivity has the potential to add a whopping 140 Billion to the U.S. economy, benefiting its rural areas the most.
According to the same study high-speed internet will lead to a 21 percent growth in small businesses in rural America adding well over three and a half hundred thousand jobs to rural markets.
Right now, a mere 20 percent of rural businesses are leveraging online resources and digital technologies to support their businesses. This figure must rise if we want rural and urban America to be on par with each other.
Online technologies will not help rural businesses expand their consumer base by helping them reach customers nationwide and even help them target international markets, increasing their revenues by many folds.
Moreover, they can also utilize digital marketing technologies to increase public awareness of their brands.
In addition, an increase in the number of consumers being able to stay online consistently will help these businesses expand and diversify their supply chains. Having the ability to procure raw materials from thousands of online vendors will help make their processes more flexible and resilient. Helping them cut down costs and boost profits.
In the end, it is important to mention that increasing access to the internet is merely about putting up infrastructure and launching satellites. It has to be a holistic process. Digital literacy in rural America is still very low.
Fewer people use the internet to make purchases and fewer still adopt professions in highly technical fields. Causing a shortage of tech workers for hire in sparsely populated areas. An astonishing 38 percent of rural businesses claim that they have difficulty hiring tech talent. And this labor shortage impedes their access to the digital economy.
It’s no secret that America that for the longest period, America has been suffering from a rural-urban divide. Residents of rural communities have been left behind in each and every facet of modern life. But our burgeoning tech economy supported by high-speed broadband access can help us remedy this situation. And we as Americans must not let this historical opportunity pass us by.