Smart phones aren’t reducing the rural Internet gap

There’s been increasing talk lately that the push to get everybody on the Internet will get a boost as smart phones become ubiquitous. Even people who don’t have broadband service at home, because of cost or for some other reason, will get on the Internet via their phones, the argument goes. So perhaps we don’t need to worry so much about running fiber to every last house in the country.

Of course, many people will point out that smart phone speeds aren’t nearly great enough to be considered true broadband. They can’t deliver the kind of education, medical or entertainment services that a fiber to your home or good cable or DSL service can. It’s tough to do your taxes on a smart phone.

But still, 10 percent of the nation’s adults say they don’t have broadband at home but do have a smart phone, says a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. It may not be everything you want in Internet service, but it’s something.

On the other hand, the same report shows that phenomenon has done nothing to narrow the urban-rural gap.

Pew Internet and American Life Pr

Among urban adults, 70 percent told Pew researchers this spring they had broadband access in their home. Among rural adults, the figure was 62 percent. So there was a 8-percentage-point urban-rural broadband gap. (There’s an 11-point suburban-rural gap.)

When Pew added in the adults who report not having home broadband but having a smart phone with Internet access, the urban-rural gap rose to 10 points, and the suburban-rural gap rose to 13 points.

Kathryn Zickuhr, Pew research analyst, suggested that factors other than geography are playing bigger roles in broadband and mobile adoption. Older people, people with less education and poorer people tend to adopt technology more slowly than others and rural areas tend to have a higher concentration of those people. Smart phone use is particularly tied to age, Zickuhr said.

I have heard anecdotally about how mobile makes some remote areas more “tolerable” in the Internet access sense. I’m thinking about the Cloquet Valley north of Duluth, where residents have been working for a number of years to improve their options.

But the numbers seem to indicate, at least when you paint with a broad brush, that mobile so far has not leveled the urban-rural Internet playing field.