The digital divide between rural and urban America’s access to internet

The internet is not a luxury.  

Last year a federal court defined it as a basic utility like running water or electricity, but in rural areas across America, high-speed internet often ends at the county line.

Just 3 percent of people in urban areas lack access to broadband, but in rural areas, 35 percent of people have no access.

That’s about 22 million Americans.

The FCC Thursday committed $2 billion in subsidies over the next decade to help telecommunications companies bridge that gap, reports CBS News’ Tony Dokoupil.

At his optometry office in Dawsonville, Georgia, Dr. Brian Burke takes pride in his sleek, 21st century technology.

“I wanted to be the most modern office that we could be,” Burke said.

CBS News

But he has to run it at a 20th-century pace.

“It does. People can remember back to when you would do your dial-up, and you would wait for the — for it to spin around until you actually got a connection. We face that as a daily part of doing business,” Burke said.

The FCC defines high-speed internet as download speeds of 25 megabits a second. Burke’s internet is half that speed or less.

Burke has tried telling his internet service provider that he needs faster internet but his attempts have not been successful.

Burke says he’s spent more than $25,000 on a server to avoid transferring large files online, but slowdowns at the front desk still prevent at least 20 patients a week from getting in for treatment.

Andrew Blum, the author of a book about the guts of the internet, showed CBS News a tightly-guarded room in New York to see one of the hubs that connects broadband users there with high-speed networks elsewhere.

“Bandwidth in this room is cheaper and more abundant than almost anywhere else on earth. The challenge is connecting where we are right now to the rest of the country,” Blum said. 

How the internet gets to homes in a rural community. 

CBS News

Rural homes and businesses are far from these hubs and often far from each other. In areas where fiber-optic cable can cost up to $40,000 per mile, slow speeds can make downloading songs take up to 16 times longer. A movie that takes fewer than eight minutes to download elsewhere can sometimes take up to an hour-and-a-half.

Jarrod Berkshire is the president of operations for Windstream — on of rural America’s largest…

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