P-I newspaper boxes. Photo Kurt Schlosser

Researchers at Washington State University have concluded that large segments of the state are marooned in what they call a “rural information ghetto,” stuck with a lack of news coverage exacerbated by poor Internet access, bad cellular coverage and dwindling local journalism.

For example, the report notes that 3.8 percent of the state’s residents do not have access to broadband, including a whopping 80 percent of residents in Ferry County in the northeastern part of the state.

To help solve the information gap, the researchers suggests that the Washington Rural News Consortium be formed in order train community-oriented journalists in the underserved areas and raise awareness for better access to high-speed Internet.

The report begins by calling out the contrasting high-tech hub of Seattle with other parts of the state:

The state of Washington is an information enigma. Some of the nation’s leading digital technology companies are headquartered in and around Seattle, yet vast areas of the state are starved of locally relevant public affairs news. Google and Yahoo are just two of the global Internet companies that have opened offices in the state, joining content giants like Amazon and MSNBC.com, yet only 20 towns have a daily newspaper, just 23 have radio stations with some form of local news, and TV is clustered in four cities with tightly defined coverage areas. T-Mobile is headquartered in the state, yet mobile dead zones are common outside the major towns. Facebook recently opened a major office in Seattle, yet Washington’s use of social networking platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is lower than many other states. In huge sections of Washington, citizens have little or no access to news about what is taking place in their own communities. The situation is particularly grim in areas populated by minorities and on some of the vast Native American reservations. In short, Washington is a digital state with a rural information ghetto.

The study also found that rural residents in Washington state use search engines less than adults in other rural areas of the country, an irony not lost on the researchers who pointed out that the Seattle area has large operations of both Google and Microsoft’s Bing.

You can read the full report — funded in part by the Carnegie Corporation — below:

Murrow FCC Rural Information Initiative Final Report

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  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    Thanks for posting this. This is really important, though not something that folks think much about, so taking time to post about this is really important.

    Sadly, this is inline with other broad trends in our society that are creating a nearly insurmountable gulf between “haves” and “have nots”. Add to this the loss of postal service in rural areas, and the loss of bus and train routes in rural areas.

    Increasingly the rural areas in this country are being cut off and out and consigned to an almost “dark age” like existence. It’s quite disturbing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cameron-Newland/10700278 Cameron Newland

      How is the trend of rural areas having less services than cities ‘disturbing’? In 1870, 70-80% of Americans were employed in agriculture. Today, that number is 2-3%. Since we have no need to all be farmers anymore, there is no need to have so much land, and so we’ve quite intelligently clustered in cities where infrastructure can be shared among us. Living out in the country when there is no reason to do so is silly and irresponsible.

      • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

        People still live outside cities in rural areas. If we continue to cut services and resources for these folks we’re on the road to creating a perpetual rural underclass that can never get out of where they are. It won’t be a question of making a silly and irresponsible choice of living outside of the city: they won’t have any means or ability to get out of where they are.

        I don’t know I’d say that clustering in cities is “intelligent”. It’s people following the economic opportunities, yes. But I think the jury is out on the desirability of having people crammed ever more densely like this. Certainly there’s an argument to be made that an urban-only monoculture has a number of risks both social and biological such that putting all our eggs into that one basket may not be smart.

        Interestingly, too, though, in the cities, you have a nascent perpetual urban underclass too that is equally under-served for opportunities and resources.

        What is most disturbing is an increasing stratification of society into classes that lack the mobility that this country once had.

        That would seem, like Hayek wrote, the road to serfdom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cameron-Newland/10700278 Cameron Newland

    These rural residents, by choosing to live in isolation, are essentially choosing to be without modern infrastructure, whether they understand the decision they’re making or not. If I lived in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, would I expect that some state or government pay for my satellite internet access? NO! So why should the state (or service providers) have to provide subsidized access to people who live in the middle of nowhere on land?

  • http://profiles.google.com/clive.boulton clive boulton

    Precision agriculture is back burned until real-time communications infrastructure is provisioned. Over (and under) watering / fertilization all roll up into ability to instrument for crop yields and monitor environment.

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