RTF professors receive grant to study effects of broadband Internet access on rural communities

AUSTIN, Texas—The impact of high-speed Internet connections on rural America will be examined by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin through a four-year, $408,000 project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its National Research Initiative program.

Drs. Sharon Strover and Joe Straubhaar, professors in the Department of Radio-Television-Film in the College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin, will conduct the research with researchers from the University of Louisville and Michigan State University.

“National studies consistently show a rural lag in having access to and actually using information technology,” said Strover, who has studied broadband in rural areas in the Appalachian region for the past five years. “Broadband may be the newest phase of the digital divide, but it may carry especially important implications for the economic well-being of rural communities.”

Broadband Internet access has the potential to enable rural residents to telecommute to urban jobs, market local products and services across state and national boundaries, and improve their access to education, recreation, health and government services. But improved access also could substitute distant products for local ones, provide a conduit for rural job seekers wishing to migrate to urban areas, or even import urban “vices” like casino gambling.

“Four U.S. counties have been chosen for the study, including two on the Texas-Mexico border: Zapata and Zavala counties,” said believe these regions are particularly frail economically and that they represent spots of major immigration and change in rural populations.”

This fall, University of Texas researchers will interview patrons of public Internet access locations in the two counties, as well as organizations that provide online content for local residents. They also plan to contact local businesses to gauge some of the economic dimensions to broadband for businesses of different sizes and in different sectors. The study also will conduct a sample survey of residents to identify barriers to home broadband adoption. This will be followed in the spring by a baseline mail survey of county residents, which will be compared to a follow-up survey in spring 2008 to track the effects of Internet adoption over time.

For more information contact: Sharon Strover and Joe Straubhaar, 512-471-4071.