Bridging the Rural - Urban Digital Divide in Residential Internet Access
Whitacre, Brian E.
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This dissertation explores the persistent gap between rural and urban areas in the percentage of households that access the Internet at home (a discrepancy commonly known as the "digital divide"). The theoretical framework underlying a household's Internet adoption decision is examined, with emphasis on the roles that household characteristics, network externalities, and digital communication technology (DCT) infrastructure potentially play. This framework is transferred into a statistical model of household Internet access, where non-linear decomposition techniques are employed to estimate the contributions of these variables to the digital divide in a given year. Differences in Internet access rates between years are also analyzed to understand the importance of temporal resistance to the continuing digital divide. The increasing prevalence of "high-speed" or broadband access is also taken into account by modeling a decision process where households that choose to have Internet access must decide between dial-up and high-speed access. This nested process is also decomposed in order to estimate the contributions of household characteristics, network externalities, DCT infrastructure, and temporal resistance to the high-speed digital divide. The results suggest that public policies designed to alleviate digital divides in both general and high-speed access should focus more on the broader income and education inequities between rural and urban areas. The results also imply that the current policy environment of encouraging DCT infrastructure investment in rural areas may not be the most effective way to close the digital divide in both general and high-speed Internet access.
- Doctoral Dissertations