Internet Access and Connectivity across the Urban-Rural Spectrum

May 2021
Julie Rubin

Broadband internet is a faster and more efficient way to access online services and information than traditional dial-up or satellite services. While broadband is becoming increasingly ubiquitous across the United States, there remains a “digital divide” where some people have access to internet and others remain untethered based on a variety of factors including location. Recent research has highlighted disparities between urban and rural areas based on broadband access, which can lead to a “rural penalty,” a term to describe the increased economic and social burden that rural communities face as a result of their distance from seats of power and centers of commerce. This report explores the digital divide between urban and rural municipalities in Michigan by examining the provision of online government services and the challenges that jurisdictions face in implementing technology expansions. Findings indicate that the prevalence of government websites as well as jurisdiction information and services are correlated with whether a jurisdiction is in an urban or rural area.

Key findings

  • Urban areas are more likely than their rural counterparts to engage their citizens through technology and to have an official government website.
  • For jurisdictions that do have websites, urban districts are more likely to offer online services (such as taxes and fines) and to post information related to government business (video streams, meeting agendas and minutes).
  • Districts across the urban-rural spectrum feel similarly that the information and services they provide to residents are sufficient but recognize needs for improvements.
  • Rural areas cite the lack of high-speed internet and infrastructure as a barrier to using more technology, while urban areas cite barriers related to compliance and privacy.