5G pipe dream: Millions of Americans lack broadband still

The digital divide persists in rural US markets.

Rae Hodge Former senior editor
Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
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In this photo illustration a 5G logo seen displayed on a

While mobile carriers tout 5G rollout, research firm finds one-third of Americans lack broadband access.

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As mobile carriers prepare to deploy 5G networks in metropolitan areas across the US, a new report finds that nearly one-third of American households don't have a broadband connection. Roughly 100 million consumers lack access to high-speed internet connections of at least 25 Mbps, according to research firm NDP Group's Rural America and Technology report, released Thursday. That's 31% of the country.

"The so-called digital divide, between those that can or cannot make the best use of the Internet, can be clearly felt in rural markets where the lack of broadband impacts everything from entertainment to the educational system," said Eddie Hold, president of NPD Connected Intelligence, in a release. "And even the state level data masks the underlying reality that in the most rural markets in America, less than 20 percent of households have a broadband connection."

NDP's report is the latest to chart the growing divide between rural and urban internet access rates. In 2016, the FCC found that 39% of rural Americans lacked broadband. Pew Research Center's 2019 report found rural Americans are now 12% less likely to have home broadband. 

However, the rollout of 5G, the next generation of wireless technology that promises to greatly enhance the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks, could also help rural areas.

"The roll out of 5G will have a significant impact in rural America, disrupting the limited broadband carrier market and delivering broadband to many households that have not previously had access," said Hold.

Watch this: How to solve the rural broadband problem? Fix the maps