Rural US Overpays for Internet, Expanding ‘Digital Divide’

The U.S. gap between rural and urban areas is growing wider writes Surfshark, a VPN service company located in the Netherlands. The company’s research shows that digital necessities can be difficult to afford in certain states — namely, the ability to access quick and affordable internet.

In its blog article on its website, Surfshark set out to map internet inequality in the United States with its Internet Value Index, taking time to address the growing digital divide and pinpoint which states overpay for their internet connections.

To illustrate the digital divide in terms of internet quality and affordability by state, Surfshark used its Internet Value Index, an extension of the Digital Quality of Life (DQL) index, which tracks and reports on the digital well-being of 92 percent of the global population in 117 counties.

The Internet Value Index draws from the greater DQL Index. Findings are calculated by dividing internet speed by internet affordability to determine which states overpay for their internet and which states receive fair prices for their connections.

What Surfshar discovered is that New Jersey and Mississippi are at opposite ends of the internet value pole:

  • New Jersey leads with an Internet Value Index of 0.99 – more than 70 percent higher than the U.S. average of 0.58. The state is followed by Massachusetts (0.93) and New York (0.92).
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi comes in lowest with an index of 0.30 (around 50 percent below the U.S. average). Slightly luckier internet denizens reside in Wyoming (0.33) and Arkansas (0.35).

Surfshark ranked internet pricing and found those states ranking from 1 to 25 as receiving fair internet prices and states ranking from 26 to 50 were classed as having overpriced internet.

Rural states suffer the most in terms of internet value: three out of four rural states have overpriced internet. The situation is different in more urbanized states, where three out of four states get fair internet prices.

The Northeast’s internet value is almost 30 percent higher than the U.S. average:

It is the only U.S. region with an index higher than the U.S. average.

  • This region has the largest percentage of urban area, the highest population density and the highest income.
  • The Middle Atlantic division of the Northeast is the best-performing division by a large margin, with its index being more than 50 percent higher than the U.S. average.

The remaining regions perform similarly to one another and are more than 20 percent behind the Northeast. The Midwest comes in at second place, below the U.S. average, followed by the West and, finally the South.

When it comes to a state’s internet quality and affordability, multiple factors come into play:

  • Economic position – the wealthiest states get the best internet prices — 83 percent of high-income states enjoy a high Internet Value Index. Meanwhile, the poorest states sacrifice more for lower internet value.
  • Population density – population density has a significant correlation (0.74) with the Internet Value Index. Highest-ranking New Jersey has the highest population density (1062 people/sq.mi.) – that’s 12 times more people per square mile than the U.S. average (87 people/sq.mi.).
  • Percentage of urban area – population density tends to coincide with urban areas. States in the best-performing Northeast region have a three-times higher percentage of urban area (20 percent on average) than states in the worst-performing Southern region.
  • Landlocked – The average index of non-landlocked states (0.65) is 25 percent higher than the average of landlocked states (0.52). The Northeast, the best-performing region, has the lowest percentage of landlocked states (22 percent).

Unequal access to high-quality and affordable internet is contributing to the digital divide in the United States. If the gap persists, rural states will continue to be left out of economy-boosting opportunities, such as working and studying online. Enhancing internet connectivity in rural states can be the first step in bridging the country’s economic, digital and educational divides.

Find the full research material here.