There has been steady penetration of the Internet into rural areas in recent years and more than half of rural adults--52%--now go online. However, a corresponding rise in the percentage of urban and suburban residents going online has left a persistent gap between rural areas and the rest of the country. Some 67% of urban residents and 66% of suburbanites are online.
A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that the gap is probably tied to the fact that rural residents as a group earn less and are older than their urban and suburban counterparts.
Rural areas' are also distinct in how rural users get online. Some 19% of online rural residents have broadband connections at home, compared to 36% of urban residents and 32% of suburbanites. The availability of broadband connections may be partially responsible for this difference. Nearly a quarter of rural Internet users say they can't get a high-speed connection in their area, whereas 5% of urban users say this, and 10% of suburban users say a high-speed connection is unavailable.
In addition, rural Internet users are distinctive in some ways for what they do and don't do online. They are more likely than others accessed religious or spiritual content. In addition, they are more likely to have used instant messaging. On the other hand, they are less likely than others to have engaged in transaction activities such as online banking and online purchases.
“Rural Internet users aren't entirely a breed apart from other online Americans,” said Peter Bell, Research Associate at the Pew Internet Project and principal author of the new report. “When it comes to using email, employing search engines, visiting government Web sites, and pursuing hobbies, they are just as likely as everyone else to perform some of the most popular activities online. Many of their differences can be explained by the fact that the Internet hasn't diffused into everyday life in rural areas at quite the same clip as it has in others locales.”
The report, titled “Rural Areas and the Internet,” is based on primarily on survey data collected between March and August 2003. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, fully funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the social impact of the Internet.
Some other data highlights from the report: