People who live in rural parts of the country still don't use the Web to the same extent as city dwellers.
That's according to the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Association, which this week issued a new report about the so-called digital divide. The report, based on data collected in July 2015, found that 75% of urban Americans say they use the Web, but only 69% of rural Americans say they do so.
What's more, even when people in rural areas go online, they don't appear to use the Web for as many purposes as urban residents. For instance, only 86% of online rural residents say they use email, compared to 92% of urban dwellers who use the Web. Fewer than one in three (28%) of online rural residents use online video or voice conferencing, compared to nearly four in 10 (38%) of online urban residents. And just 68% of online rural residents use social media, compared to 71% of online city dwellers.
The data suggests "the barriers to Internet adoption existing in rural communities are complex and stubborn," the NTIA writes. "Some households may require subsidies to make the Internet more affordable, while others may need digital literacy training to make the Internet more useful to them. Even today, some remote rural communities still lack Internet access at all or the service available may be poor or prohibitively expensive."
The NTIA didn't examine connection speeds, but other research has established that many people living in rural areas lack access to high-speed service. Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission reported that 39% of people living in rural areas lack access to connections of at least 25 Mbps -- the current definition of broadband.
The FCC recently tried to improve broadband availability in rural areas by invalidating state laws that prevented cities and towns from building their own broadband networks. Around 20 states currently have those types of laws on the books. But the FCC's effort was shot down this week by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the FCC exceeded its authority. It's not yet known whether the FCC will appeal.