Internet access in rural areas has long been an issue that public and private organizations alike are working to address. Unfortunately, these efforts have not been fast enough to ensure that every rural resident has the connectivity they need and deserve—an issue that is painfully apparent amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As many Americans have shifted to distance learning, remote work, and virtual health visits, it’s becoming more apparent that these necessities aren’t available to many rural residents.
In this article, we address the disparity between rural and urban areas regarding internet connectivity. And, in the spirit of relief and solidarity, share our newly-public initiative to help close the gap.
In terms of the internet, what does under-served mean?
When you hear the word “under-served,” what are the first thoughts that come to mind? The term “under-served population” typically references sections of our population living in poverty, recalling images of those struggling without the necessary support. However, when we reference the under-served within the context of internet connectivity, we are pointing to a group of people who are not necessarily going without due to lack of funds. Rather, we are talking about people who are going without due to a lack of internet access—particularly in rural areas.
In an effort to communicate more clearly, United Communications refers to this group as “under-connected,” as it paints a picture of what we’re really talking about: those who desperately need internet access to complete the most basic tasks.
So, who are the under-served and under-connected?
In terms of connectivity, the under-connected live in rural areas that have minimal access to the internet. Even when these rural residents have access, they often struggle with extremely slow upload and download times while paying a much higher price than their urban counterparts.
According to a USTelecom State-of-the-Industry 2020 Update report, the disparity between rural and urban households’ availability by speed remains a crucial conversation. When we remove speed as a factor, still only 89% of rural households have available access to the internet. However, as soon as we begin to factor in upload and download speeds, that number decreases exponentially. When we look at the availability of download speeds of greater than or equal to 1G, 98% of rural households have access to this speed. In contrast, a mere 51% of rural households have the same opportunity.
Why is there a significant divide between rural and urban areas’ internet access?
The short answer to this question is cost versus profitability. In a study by the Department of Transportation, as reported by USTelecom, it costs approximately $27,000 per mile to lay fiber. When you factor in that some rural areas have only a few houses per mile, you can see why even national internet service providers might shy away from this investment for fear of a low return.
What is United Communications doing to address the divide between rural and urban areas?
Taking its internal mission to the public, United Communications has now publicly launched Project UNITE. Built to address the crucial need for internet access in rural areas of Middle Tennessee, Project UNITE works to provide connectivity to rural homes and businesses—specifically areas that have been historically overlooked by larger internet service providers. By leveraging strategic partnerships with community, business, and government leaders, Project UNITE works to improve residents’ quality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
United Communications is proud to have built a community initiative that continually works to connect areas with better bandwidth access. Currently servicing over 13,000 internet customers, many of which are in areas that would otherwise not have broadband access, United Communications has long been on a mission to connect Middle Tennessee.