Computer and Broadband Access in Appalachia

Access to broadband or high-speed Internet service (cable, fiber optic, DSL, cellular, or satellite) enhances people’s ability to pursue learning, telework, access telehealth services, connect with their communities, start and grow businesses, and more. During the 2015-2019 period, 78% of Appalachian households had a broadband Internet subscription, compared to 83% households nationwide.

Additionally, there are signs of a rural-urban “digital divide” within the Region. In 18 Appalachian counties, more than half of which are considered rural, less than 60% of households had a broadband subscription. In contrast, 26 of the 28 counties with subscription rates at or above the national average were in metro areas. The increased role of internet access during, and in the aftermath of, COVID-19, puts Appalachia’s rural communities at even greater risk.

Learn more about Appalachia’s broadband and device access trends below.

86.1%
Computer Access
73.5%
Smartphone Access
77.8%
Broadband Subscriptions

Broadband Subscriptions

Broadband Subscriptions

Access to broadband or high-speed Internet service enhances people’s ability to pay bills, pursue learning, telework, and connect with friends and family. Indeed, it has become a tool for promoting economic development. During the 2015-2019 period, more than three in four Appalachian households had a broadband Internet subscription, compared to more than four in five households nationwide. Nonetheless, there are still signs of a rural-urban “digital divide” within the Region: In 18 Appalachian counties, less than 60% of households had a broadband subscription.

Device Access in Appalachia

Households with No Device Access

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, computer devices had become commonly used for such activities as school work, entertainment, online banking, health care access, and socializing—and the pandemic’s effects have magnified the importance of such devices. In 2015-2019, 86% of households in the Appalachian Region had one or more computer devices—four points below the national average. Only 23 Appalachian counties with a computer were at or above the national average; 21 of these were in metropolitan areas.

Households with No Device Access

The share of Appalachian households with a computer device was below 80% in 132 of Appalachia’s 420 counties and less than 75% in 35 of these. All but two of the counties in the latter group were outside metropolitan areas and 23 were in the most rural areas. Central Appalachia had exactly half of these counties. As a result, these data suggest aspects of a “digital divide”—particularly between urban and rural areas in Appalachia—that likely will be highlighted more keenly in the coming years.