Thursday, February 17, 2011

When the digital divide aligns with the rural-urban axis

A story in today's New York Times, dateline Coffeeville, Alabama, population 563, reports on the relative lack of progress in getting broadband to rural places like Coffeeville and surrounding nonmetropolitan Clarke County. The story focuses on Clarke County in relation to the Obama Administration's effort to extend broadband into under-served areas.

Just about half of Clarke County residents have access to highspeed internet, while the figure for rural residents nationwide is 60%, still about 10% less than that enjoyed by urban populations. The story includes some interesting anecdotes about life for Clarke County residents who don't have broadband.

“Ninety-five percent of the people in this county who want public water can have it, but people can’t even talk to each other around here,” said Sharon Jones, 60, who owns a small logging company with her husband and lives just outside Coffeeville.

It took her three days to try to arrange a meeting with the governor 150 miles away in Montgomery because such inquiries cannot be made over the phone and she had to drive 45 minutes to her daughter’s house to use e-mail.

Among the things that many Clarke County residents cannot do online are errands and opportunities that many of us (especially in metropolitan areas) now take for granted: engage in e-commerce, utilize Facebook, pay bills, visits doctors, and further our educations. The story also quotes an official at the Center for Rural Affairs analogizing rural broadband to rural electrification, in which the federal government invested heavily nearly a century ago. He characterizes both as "critical" utilities.


Clarke County has a population of 26,042 (of whom about 43% are African American and about 55% are white) and a poverty rate just over 20%. See a full demographic and economic profile here.


Chez Marta said...
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Chez Marta said...

Lisa, you struck a great point here. There is a disparity even in wireless coverage: AT&T posted their coverage map on a billboard, stating that they cover 97% of Americans. They do cover all urban areas, that's true... And building wireless coverage supposed to cost less than broadband wiring. As you wrote in "Human Rights and Development for India's Rural Remnant : A Capabilities-Based Assessment" that India's federal government spends 27% of its budget on telecommunications investments. How does our Federal Budget compare?!