To close the digital divide, it must first be identified

By Jordan Rasmussen
Center for Rural Affairs

Despite the potential for broadband to modernize the economy in rural America, access and availability continue to lag. The president’s recent executive order affirmed this limitation and the need to commit resources to close rural America’s digital divide.

Yet, the ability to pinpoint where service is and is not available is fundamental to closing the digital divide in rural areas.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, funding was allocated to establish a comprehensive nationwide map of existing broadband capability and availability. Funding for this program ended in 2014.

Some states, like Minnesota, have adopted legislation or maintained this degree of regulation which require internet service providers to provide access and speed availability data at a granular level.

However, reporting standards vary and often allow for telecommunication services to be reported at the census block level. In many rural areas, census blocks span entire counties, leaving room for error in reporting service availability.

The accuracy of data collected from internet service providers is an important tool used to determine where broadband access is sufficient and where it can be improved. This data is invaluable to state agencies and local entities to identify where public resources should be invested.

For the 23 million rural Americans who do not have broadband speed access, census block data is not sufficient to recognize and address the broadband gap. As federal and state governments seek to close rural America’s digital divide, it is imperative that gap is closed at the granular level, where it exists.

 

Jordan Rasmussen may be reached at jordanr@cfra.org.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, nonprofit organization, based in Lyons, Neb., working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action-oriented programs addressing social, economic and environmental issues.