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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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