Bandwidth Blog

The Rural Broadband Digital Divide

There is a high degree of awareness of how differences in Internet connectivity contribute to the “digital divide” experienced by many, if not most, rural areas. Less is understood about a very real divide that exists from (a lack of) utilization. That’s right, just as important as “speed” is how much businesses and non-commercial organizations utilize the Internet.

Using the data SNG has collected in numerous states between 2012 and February 2015, we can actually quantify this digital divide.  Just as significantly, we can identify the types of organizations (industry, size, rural/urban, etc.) that are experiencing the greatest gap in utilization. To quantify utilization, SNG has developed a means to measure utilization we call the Digital Economy index (DEi) that is a reflection of how many Internet processes or applications an organization uses. We measure use of 17 applications on a ten-point scale (ten being best) to develop the DEi (e.g. an organization using 8 of 17 applications would have a DEi score of 4.7).

deimediansCollecting data in numerous states, each with rural and urban components, SNG has uncovered the digital divide that exists based largely on the size of the community businesses are located. The table on the right shows that the more urban a community, the higher the DEi score. Regardless of speed available, rural communities are utilizing the Internet and its applications at a lower rate largely because in rural areas there is less knowledge transfer amongst peers and less of a market for specialized technical services.

Beyond the notable gap in Internet utilization between rural and urban areas, SNG’s research also reveals sectors and types of organizations that suffer most from this digital divide. This is consistent with our findings that rural communities have far less local resources to support businesses looking to better utilize broadband applications.

For small towns & isolated small towns (in essence, the census terms for “rural”), local governments have the largest utilization gap compared to their metropolitan peers: with a DEi of 5.24 compared to 7.17. Libraries also show a notable utilization gaps: metro = 7.23; rural = 6.12). In contrast, K-12 schools of comparable size have very similar DEi scores regardless of how urban or rural they are.

1gapWhen examining industry type, it is illuminating to see just how much variance there can be depending on industry. Ironically, one of the biggest utilization gaps is in what might be considered the most advanced sector (Professional and Technical Services) which is large, growing, and well paying but slow to adopt key Internet applications.

2gapLarger businesses in rural areas (100 or more employees) still experience a utilization gap to their urban counterparts. Rural businesses with less than 100 employees experience a much larger utilization gap.

So while fiber, net neutrality, and FCC decisions dominate the news, the success of broadband in driving impacts is dependent on utilization.

This means that providing our rural businesses with the knowledge and support to leverage the Internet is key to maintaining competitiveness. Furthermore, in today’s landscape it is easier to live rural and work globally, as long as rural businesses have access to networks and support systems that help them thrive in the digital economy. Developing local networks and supports is a direct and significant opportunity (as well as challenge) for local business retention and growth. There are ways to achieve this, including SNG’s Small Business Growth Program. We’d love to share with you how this program can drive economic growth in your region.


SNG Research Featured On Bloomberg TV

In a story about Maine’s lagging economy and Internet speeds – Bloomberg TV cited SNG’s research that a third of jobs are Internet created. It stands to reason that the two are interrelated.

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SNG Appears on Community Broadband Bits Podcast

Michael Curri chats with Chris Mitchell to discuss measuring broadband’s impacts and how to drive meaningful utilization.

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SNG presents at the 2014 Broadband Communities Summit in Austin

Click below to download the presentation Michael Curri gave on April 7 in Austin as part of the 2014 Broadband Communities Summit. That workshop focuses on Maximizing the payoff from a broadband investment.

Download the presentation


Nebraska’s Lt. Governor Releases Results of SNG Study

The Nebraska Broadband Initiative recently released the results of the study consulted by SNG among the State’s small businesses. The Lt. Governor’s office issued a press release and the complete report is available at on the Nebraska Broadband Initiative’s website at broadband.nebraska.gov/.

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Report released: What’s the ROI on broadband?

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Click to read on Blandin’s website.

If you were asked to give $1 and, in return, you would receive $10, would you do it? Before you opened up your pocketbook, you’d probably gauge whether or not you trusted the possibility of return on your investment. Is the risk worth the reward?

Much the same, broadband investments were akin to a game of chance. Rural communities were hopeful that their original investment would spur a healthy return. However, new research from the Strategic Networks Group (SNG) now gives communities a factual basis for planning. Yesterday at the Border to Border Broadband Conference, Michael Curri of SNG unveiled a report that applied their scenario-based approach to modeling the direct impacts of increased broadband utilization to two rural Minnesota counties, Lac qui Parle and Kanabec.

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How much is broadband investment worth? A lot of bratwurst

It’’s become an article of faith that a rural community needs high-speed access to the Internet if businesses are going to thrive. But just how much difference does access to and use of broadband make?

There were two answers Wednesday at the Blandin Foundation’s Border to Border Broadband conference in St. Paul. One involved numbers and modeling and predictions. The other had more to do with bratwurst.

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North Carolina Announces Next Phase in Long Standing Strategic Networks Group (SNG) Partnership

SNG Engaged to Measure Utilization and Help State Realize Broadband’s Economic Benefits

nc_broadband-logo2(October 9, 2013) Raleigh, NC – NC Broadband announced today that they’ve again engaged SNG to measure broadband utilization of businesses and households throughout the State.  Previously SNG, the global leader in broadband measurements, conducted a similar study in 2010 within North Carolina, helping to inform and guide strategies since.  This year’s study will provide important information on progress made over the past three years as well as the challenges that still need to be overcome.

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Nebraska Selects SNG to Help Drive Broadband’s Benefits

SNG Engaged to Provide Local Businesses with Personalized, Data-based Roadmaps to Improve Efficiencies and Drive Growth

NE BroadBand logo(August 13, 2013) Lincoln, Nebraska – The Nebraska Broadband Initiative today announced they’ve engaged SNG to help drive business utilization, and the accompanying benefits, for regional economic development.  SNG will demonstrate for local businesses the return on investment that can be realized by capitalizing on recent investments in Nebraska broadband.   The Broadband Mapping and Planning Initiative is funded through a grant to the Nebraska Public Service Commission by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunication and Information Administration and aims to increase broadband adoption and utilization. The University of Nebraska is leading the planning efforts. Planning project partners include the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Information Technology Commission, Nebraska Department of Economic Development and Aim Institute.

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Kentucky Poised to Tackle Utilization

ukStrategic Networks Group has been partnering with the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Michael Baker Jr., Inc., over the past three years helping to measure broadband gaps, opportunities, and utilization rates.

Kentucky has made strides in availability, connectivity, and speed over the past few years. What didn’t change between 2010 and 2012? Utilization.

Utilization (as expected) is lagging behind, with limited efforts to drive it before 2012. So now comes the hard part – driving uptake and utilization. Kentucky understands the importance of utilization in capturing the economic and social benefits of broadband and they’re now making a push towards driving improved Internet utilization by businesses and local governments in 2013.

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