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Digital Divide Narrowing Between Rural & Urban Areas

The so-called digital divide between rural and urban areas is narrowing, with the result that farmers are nearly as likely as their city neighbors to have internet access. A biennial USDA survey says 71% of farms are on the internet, nearly the same as the U.S. average of 73% or 75%. It’s a big step up from 2009, when fewer than 60% of farms had a connection.

By comparison, 63% of rural Americans told the Pew Research Center last year that they had broadband at home, 10 points behind the U.S. average. In 2007, when one half of Americans were on the internet, the rural-urban gap was 16 points.

Some 85% of farms with more than $250,000 in annual sales — the top sales class in the report — have a computer and 75% use it for business, says USDA. Some 63% of the largest operators use a smartphone or a tablet for business, as well. For the country overall, 47% of farmers use their computers for business. The most common internet connections were DSL lines, 29%; satellite, 21%; and cable modem, 15%. Some 17% said they use mobile internet for their cell phone or other device.

“Even though rural areas are more wired today than in the past, substantial segments of rural America still lack the infrastructure needed for high-speed internet, and what access these areas do have tends to be slower than that of nonrural areas,” said Pew. Rural residents go online less frequently than city or suburban residents.

This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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