Digital Divide: Bridging the Urban-Rural Connectivity Gap


If you live in an urban area, you may mistakenly believe that everyone has access to reliable Wi-Fi, personal computers, and cellular networks. However, millions of rural Americans live without these increasingly essential amenities.

This sentiment is echoed by data collected by the Pew Research Center. Researchers discovered that, despite recent gains, roughly three in 10 rural households do not have broadband. Similarly, 20% of the rural population do not own a smartphone, and 28% do not have a laptop or PC.

The idea of living without smartphones or the internet may sound romantic at first, but the reality of living without connectivity can be harsh. In today’s digital age, those who do not have access to the web are at risk of being left behind. That’s because folks with access to the web cannot utilize telehealth, have limited access to educational resources, and may miss out on employment opportunities due to poor connectivity. This means that addressing the digital divide is crucial for today’s policymakers.


The pandemic forced many healthcare providers to invest in their telehealth services. Telehealth appointments increased by 766% in the first 3 months of the pandemic alone, and 40% of physicians now use some form of telemedicine in their day-to-day practices. This is great news for providers and patients alike, who can give and receive medical attention from the comfort of their home or office.

However, rural patients are at risk of being left behind. This is a serious issue, as people who live in rural locations already tend to be sicker than their urban peers. This is largely due to healthcare access disparities that are exacerbated by economic status and poor transportation access.

Addressing the connectivity gap can help rural people receive the help they need and significantly improve their quality of life. This is particularly important for rural folks who experience acute illnesses or injuries like broken teeth or abscesses. Rural people who are connected via reliable Wi-Fi can access virtual care via teledentistry. Dentists and hygienists can then perform remote triage to ensure that remote patients are able to see a specialist at a time that works for them.


Addressing the rural-urban education gap should be a priority for today’s policymakers. Today, 13% of rural graduates left school without a high school diploma, while just 21% went on to receive a bachelor's degree. By comparison, only 11% of urban graduates left school without a diploma and 36% received a bachelor's degree or higher. This underlines the gap in educational access between rural and urban learners.

Closing educational attainment may be possible if we invest in connectivity. Students who can connect to reliable internet access are in a much stronger position to access resources and attend remote classes. This is key, as many universities and higher learning institutions now offer a blend of in-person, hybrid, and remote courses.

Of course, it may be that more rural students do not want to seek further education at a university. While this is understandable, those who do want to pursue higher education should be empowered to do so with consistent access to digital educational materials.


Addressing the connectivity gap won’t just improve access to the internet in the US; it will empower rural populations around the world to take control of their energy production, too. This is important since energy colonialism threatens to worsen the global urban-rural divide.

Bridging the connectivity gap can help more rural homeowners make the switch to smart meters and renewable energy systems. These high-tech solutions rely on a stable Wi-Fi connection and are typically connected to a wider grid via Wi-Fi. Making the switch can save homeowners money and help them build a more resilient home energy supply. This is particularly important for folks who live in areas with high sunlight hours, and who may be able to take advantage of solar panel installation.

Currently, rural families who are weighing the costs and benefits of solar energy may be put off due to limited internet access. While internet access isn’t necessary for panels to work, it does allow folks to monitor the output of their panels and their energy savings in real time. This can encourage solar energy adoption since effective solar panels enable rural residents to save $20,000 to $90,000 in energy bills.

By closing the connectivity gap, rural homeowners can take control of their energy production and reduce energy waste. This is crucial, as many rural homes are in prime position for solar panel installation and would qualify for incentives like federal solar credits, rebates, low-interest loans, and business tax benefits. This saves homeowners money and insulates them against the rising cost of nonrenewable energy.

Bridging the Gap

Connecting rural households to reliable broadband can improve healthcare outcomes, increase access to education, and undo the damage caused by energy colonialism. However, bridging the gap is no easy feat.

That’s why the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently stepped up efforts to gather connectivity data. Using this data, the FCC plans to update the “Fabric” of broadband across the country and improve bulk availability by the end of 2024. This plan is bold and multifaceted but may result in lasting change for millions of rural Americans.

As ever, it’s worth noting that many rural Americans have a higher quality of life and may not want to connect their homes to a wider Wi-Fi network. The point of bridging the gap, therefore, is not to force folks to start surfing the Web but to ensure that it is an option for all Americans.


Bridging the urban-rural connectivity gap can significantly improve rural people’s quality of life. By addressing connectivity disparities, we can improve access to telehealth providers and ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality educational materials. Improving broadband access can democratize energy supply and help more people take advantage of renewable energy systems like solar power.

Amanda Winstead is a freelance writer and blogger, covering political and economic trends. Follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaWinsteadd.

Photo: NASA via Unsplash.