Digital Divide Stats and Facts for 2022
We surveyed over 1,700 participants to examine internet issues in the US.
What is the digital divide?
The digital divide is the gap between people and their access to digital technology. Internet availability is a huge part of the digital divide problem, and unfortunately, internet availability is not equal in the US. Major metropolitan areas tend to have stronger internet connectivity than rural areas; not every type of network is available in all areas. This digital divide in the US greatly affects education, networking, and job opportunities.
We surveyed over 1,700 people to learn more about their home internet usage and found that although many have good download speeds, Americans still face issues getting the type of internet connection they want.
Median download speed
Image by Chaitawat Pawapoowadon from Pixabay
Slow internet speeds can impact access to work and schooling opportunities, making internet speed a major component of the digital divide. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends minimum download speeds above 1 Mbps if you’re streaming online radio, browsing online, or taking a personal Skype call.1
However, if you’re a student, telecommuting, or want to stream Ultra HD 4K Video, you’ll need at least 25 Mbps. And if you’re attending Zoom classes while FaceTiming your friend and watching Netflix, you’ll want to bump up those download speeds.
Luckily for our survey participants, their median internet speeds exceed 25 Mbps.
- Americans have a median download speed of 60 Mbps.
- Americans in rural areas have the lowest median download speed at 49 Mbps.
- Suburban and urban areas have significantly faster internet speeds. Suburban households reach 70 Mbps, while urban households have median download speeds of 73 Mbps.
- This means that median rural internet download speeds are 32% lower than median urban internet download speeds.
- We recommend internet download speeds of at least 100 Mbps.
Internet connection availability
Image by Clint Patterson on Unsplash
Rural residents often have less options of internet connection type and internet provider than suburban and urban residents, contributing to the severity of the digital divide. Although download speeds are in the same range for urban, suburban, and rural households, internet connection availability shows a stark disparity. Rural households were at a distinct disadvantage in finding the internet connection they wanted.
- 36% of Americans don’t have the internet connection type they want in their area. But that’s no surprise to us, since only 43% of American households have access to the best internet type, fiber internet.2
- The issue is worse for rural Americans: 46% report trouble getting the internet connection type they wanted due lack of availability in their area, compared to 33% of urban Americans and 32% of suburban Americans.
Internet provider availability
Despite having roughly 7,000 available providers, finding internet can be difficult in the US.
- 38% of Americans reported trouble getting the internet provider they wanted because of a lack of availability or infrastructure in their area.
- Meanwhile, 53% of rural Americans had trouble getting the provider they wanted because of a lack of availability in their area. Only 36% of urban households and 35% of suburban households reported the same issue.
The FCC pulled together a map from data in June 2021 that shows overlapping coverage of providers.3 When looking at three of the largest home internet providers in the US—Comcast (through Xfinity), Charter Communications (through Spectrum), and AT&T—there is tons of availability on the eastern seaboard and the west coast. But the rest of the country only sees coverage in major metropolitan areas.
Midwest, southwest, and mountain states—like Arizona, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa—don’t have much coverage from Xfinity, Spectrum, and AT&T.. It could be that those areas are better about unplugging and enjoying nature—or internet providers need to seriously expand.
Public internet usage
Image by Nikita Vantorin on Unsplash
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are key for people on the go who don’t want use all of their data while surfing the web, or people who have slower internet speeds at home due to the digital divide. Our survey revealed that many people work on public internet because their home internet isn’t fast enough. But going out to Starbucks every day just to hop on a Zoom call doesn’t seem cost-effective.
With homework and remote work, a strong home internet connection is a must. And it’s not just impacting one area of the country. We found that people in rural, suburban, and urban areas work in public spaces because of their home internet connection.
- 22% of Americans have had to work from a library, coffee shop, or another establishment because of their home internet speed.
- 17% of Americans have had to attend school remotely from a library, coffee shop, or another establishment because of their home internet speed.
Image by Stephen Phillips on Unsplash
As a refresher, there are several types of internet, including cable internet (including providers like Xfinity, Spectrum, and Optimum), DSL (like providers AT&T, CenturyLink, and Frontier), fiber (which also includes AT&T and Xfinity), and satellite (including HughesNet and Viasat).
- Most respondents (50%) have cable internet connections.
- The other popular internet connections are fiber-optic (22%), DSL (14%), and satellite (7%).
- Even though satellite internet covers 100% of the US, only 7% of respondents have satellite internet.
- A slice of America (3% of respondents) doesn’t have internet at home.
- Only 1% of respondents still use dial-up internet.
Home internet provider breakdown
Most providers aren’t available everywhere in the US. FCC data shows that only two providers offered 100% coverage of the US: satellite providers HughesNet and Viasat. This means that there are no cable or fiber providers available in 100% of the US — since cable and fiber connections are significantly faster than satellite connections, it’s no wonder the digital divide continues to be a problem in the US.
Among non-satellite internet providers, AT&T, Comcast, and Charter each cover around 30-40% of the population.3 (Not surprisingly, they were also the most popular providers among our respondents. But are they the best? We have thoughts.)
- Providers by percentage of surveyed respondents
- Xfinity: 23%
- Spectrum: 20%
- AT&T: 15%
- Verizon: 8%
- Cox: 5%
- CenturyLink: 4%
- T-Mobile: 3%
- Optimum: 2%
- Frontier: 2%
- Google Fiber: 1%
- Of the top ten providers, T-Mobile has the most home internet coverage in the US at 53%, according to the FCC.4 This is followed quickly by AT&T, Xfinity, and Spectrum.
- Google Fiber has the least coverage at 1% of the US. Cox and Optimum also have single-digit coverage at 7% and 6%, respectively.
Fastest and slowest states for internet speeds
Image by HighSpeedInternet.com
Our friends at HighSpeedInternet.com put together a report on the fastest and slowest states for internet speeds in the US. They found that urban states like New Jersey and California had speeds that were double those of speeds in rural states like Wyoming, Montana, and West Virginia. Creating better internet access opportunities for rural residents is a huge part of solving the digital divide.
Here are the full results:
|Fastest states||Average download speed|
|New Jersey||144.7 Mbps|
|Rhode Island||134.5 Mbps|
|Slowest states||Average download speed|
|West Virginia||60.7 Mbps|
|New Mexico||82.7 Mbps|
|South Dakota||83.1 Mbps|
The digital divide is real
Most Americans have download speeds that exceed the FCC’s recommendation, meaning they have fast internet. But looking at connection and provider availability, it’s clear that rural areas lag behind urban and suburban areas in terms of internet connectivity. Plus, half of rural Americans can’t the internet connection or provider they want due to a lack of availability in their area.
As providers expand their access, we’re hopefully going to see the whole US online.
Digital Divide FAQ
The results in this report are from an online survey that was fielded from September 12 to 14, 2022. There were 1,736 respondents to the survey.
The credibility interval is plus or minus 3 percentage points for questions answered by all respondents (the interval is larger for questions answered by fewer respondents).
- “Broadband Speed Guide,” Federal Communications Commission (FCC), July 18, 2022. Accessed October 5, 2022.
- “Fiber Broadband Enters Largest Investment Cycle Ever,” Fiber Broadband Association, January 5, 2022. Accessed October 5, 2022.
- “Provider coverage overlap and population coverage,” Federal Communications Commission (FCC), June 2021. Accessed October 5, 2022.
- “T-Mobile: Provider coverage overlap and population coverage,” Federal Communications Commission (FCC), June 2021. Accessed October 5, 2022.