The gap in digital access between rural areas and cities narrowed over the last decade, but rural adults remain less likely than urban or suburban residents to have broadband, computers, smartphones, and other digital devices.

A report from the Pew Research Center shows that the gap in home-broadband-connection rates of rural residents and the nation as a whole fell to 10 percentage points, down from 16 percentage points in 2007.

Just under two-thirds of rural Americans reported having home broadband in the annual survey, conducted in fall 2016. Urban areas reported 73 percent access rates. Suburban areas were the most connected, with a home-broadband connection rate of 76 percent.

The rate of increase in home-broadband access in rural areas was nearly the rate for the nation as a whole. Rural access grew by about 80 percent, while the nation as a whole climbed 43 percent.

The use of desktop and laptop computers didn’t rise significantly for rural residents since 2007, but mobile technology like smartphones and tablets are more popular than they were 10 years ago. About two-thirds of rural adults had a smart phone in 2016 and 43 percent had a tablet.

But a significant gap still remains with mobile technology, too, wrote the report’s author, Andrew Perrin.

Despite recent gains in digital technology adoption, rural adults remain less likely than urban and suburban adults to have and use these technologies. For example, rural Americans are 7 to 12 percentage points less likely than those in urban and suburban areas to say they have a smartphone, traditional computer or tablet computer.

Rural adults also are less likely to have multiple devices that enable them to go online: About three-in-ten adults who live in rural communities (29%) report that they own a desktop or laptop computer, a smartphone, a home broadband connection and a tablet computer; by contrast, 40% of urban adults and 42% of suburban adults own all four of these devices.

Among other findings were the following:

  • Rural residents are online less frequently than the rest of the nation. Fifty-eight percent of rural Americans say they use the internet at least once a day. The figures are 80 percent for urban and 76 percent for suburban.
  • “[R]oughly one-in-five rural adults (19%) say they never go online, compared with 11% of those who live in urban communities and 10% of those who live in the suburbs.”
  • Even well-off rural residents were a bit less likely to go online than their metropolitan counterparts. Of people who live in rural households earning $75,000 or more a year, 84 percent had broadband at home and 85 percent owned a smartphone. For higher-income urban and suburban households, those rates were above 90 percent.

Perrin wrote that the continuing gap between high-income urban and rural digital access could be the result of rural communities having slower and less accessible broadband.

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