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Disconnected: Internet access remains elusive in much of rural America and the nation's inner cities (2 Pics)

Rural Telfair County, Georgia has the lowest broadband internet subscription rate in the country, according to U.S. Census data.
At 25 percent, Telfair's internet lag could become a big problem in a rapidly tech-focused world.
'There definitely is frustration at every level from the government standpoint,' said Elizabeth McLean, city manager of McRae-Helena, the largest city in Telfair and the county seat of government.
Residents are frustrated too, 'because of the limitations that it puts on us as far as what kinds of businesses we're able to sustain or attract,' McLean told DailyMail.com. 'Our school system is going to a lot of electronic learning tools and it's really hard for students that live in the county to use those, or for that to be a viable option.'
Telfair County is not alone: While the internet may seem ubiquitous in America, access to broadband is still a privilege unavailable in many parts of the country – and the divide is increasingly apparent between rural and urban regions.
This color-coded map illustrates broadband internet subscription rates in every county in America. The dark blue regions highlight areas with high rates of internet access, while the lighter shades illustrate those with limited access. Telfair County, Georgia has the lowest access in the nation
'Think about everything you do online in a given day. You probably check email connect with family and friends, do some banking,' said Brian Whitacre, a professor of agriculture economics at Oklahoma State University. 'Think about how much more difficult your life would be if you didn't have a broadband connection.' 
Communities that lack access to high-speed internet can lose out economically and educationally, as those rural areas have a harder time attracting major employers and providing young students with the best education possible, Whitacre told DailyMail.com. 
The hardship is pronounced for students trying to keep up with an increasingly connected world.  
'There has been funding to get the schools themselves connected and we have done a pretty good job of getting pretty fast speeds ... but once you leave school and you go home and you don’t have a connection there’s a huge disadvantage,' Whitacre said. 'They call it the homework gap. If you’re in school and your teacher assigns work that requires homework that requires access, you have to travel somewhere (to access the internet).' 
The areas with most limited connectivity are concentrated in the South, with pockets throughout Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and western and southern Texas that have below 55 percent subscription rates, according to Census data. The Southwest – including Arizona and New Mexico – also has patches with low access rates.
Counties that the Census has designated as 'completely rural' had the lowest average subscription rate, at 65 percent, compared with 67 percent in 'mostly rural' counties and 75 percent in 'mostly urban' counties.
The federal government has historically sought to extend broadband to more rural areas, including through the Connect America Fund, which initially offered $10 billion in subsidies to persuade the nation's largest internet providers to start offering service to areas in need.
However, large internet service providers declined the offer in some states, illustrating the ongoing challenge to help broadband reach the 'last mile' of unconnected America. 
The latest development came earlier this month when a small portion of the new Farm Bill ($350 million) was allotted to expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture's loan and grant program for expanding access to broadband in rural America.
That funding supplements the USDA's $600 million broadband program that Congress passed with its omnibus budget in March.
Bringing high-speed internet to more people could be good for the economy: rural America is responsible for 15.5 percent of all consumer transactions on the internet – amounting to $1.4 trillion in spending per year, according to the Foundation for Rural Service.  
At the community level, it's important for businesses in rural America to have access to the internet in order to compete in an increasingly global economy, said Joshua Seidemann, vice president of policy for NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, which represents nearly 850 independent companies working to bring broadband to rural and small-town America.
'It's important for these companies to have connectivity in order to remain connected and to be part of a national or global marketplace,' Seidemann told DailyMail.com. 'It sounds kind of quaint, but we would not expect a business to succeed without electricity or water.' 
While rural areas are particularly vulnerable to being left without broadband, the access issue also affects cities. Census data shows some large cities and counties lagged behind their surrounding regions.
For example, in Cook County, Illinois (home of Chicago), the household broadband internet subscription rate was 77 percent. By comparison the rate was 92 percent in nearby Kendall County.
Similarly, Los Angeles' rate of 80 percent was lower than the 88 percent in neighboring Orange county.
The District of Columbia also had an unusually low 78 percent rate for an urban area, while 93 percent of nearby suburban Loudoun County in Virginia had a 93 percent rate.
Income was also linked with internet access, as roughly 65 percent of counties with median household incomes below $50,000 had broadband internet, compared to 76 percent of those with median incomes above $50,000.
Nationwide, 87.2 percent of U.S. households had a computer, and 78.1 percent had broadband internet subscriptions, according to 2013-2017 U.S. Census data released this month.
In the areas that go without, the problem is often that the major internet providers have yet to lay the fiberoptic networks that would bring the worldwide web to more rural homes.
Those companies need to justify spending money to expand their infrastructure – and have historically focused on places with higher population densities that can financially support the investment, according to a report by the Bookings Institute.
That largely leaves communities like those in outer Telfair County out, and, unfortunately, the consequences could be economic.
A 2015 study by Cornell University's Community & Regional Development Instituted found that internet access correlated with economic growth. Researchers found that rural counties that had access to internet and high internet usage saw a significantly higher growth in median household income between 2001-2010 than counties that didn't have high levels of access and usage. 
'We know down the line jobs are going to change,' McLean said. 'It could be more telecommuting and that might be something we need to support – and right now we wouldn't be able to do that.'
Telfair has a population of about 16,500 and is home to four major employers: two prisons, a Coca Cola bottling plant and a manufacturing facility that makes landscaping equipment, state Senator Steve Gooch told DailyMail.com. The prisons account for nearly half of the county's residents – and incarceration is probably part of the reason such a low proportion of the population has internet access.
Still, state officials are trying to do something for the people in Telfair and other rural counties in Georgia.
Gooch said state legislators have drafted multiple bills to help expand broadband to more people. One proposal would allow using the state's right of way (strips of land that run along the highways) to put down fiber at no cost to the state. Another proposal would seek to get federal funds for internet expansion to the 'last mile' of homes lacking access.
At least 28 states, including Arizona, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah have passed laws seeking to expand broadband internet to their more far-flung regions that currently lack access, according the National Conference of State Legislatures.
One Massachusetts town recently took matters into its own hands. Residents of Charlemont voted earlier this month to defeat a proposal for Comcast Cable to install the town's cable internet, according to the Greenfield Recorder.
Instead of spending $462,123 plus interest to expand broadband access to 96 percent of households, the town's 1,300 residents are expected to support plans to spend $1.4 million to develop Charlemont's own municipal network. 
The town received a $960,000 state grant to support the project, which is expected to charge residents $79 a month for standalone Internet service with no data caps.
It's a bold move at a time when a few major companies have regional monopolies on internet access.
This chart illustrates the average internet subscription rates in America based on income and an urban versus rural setting. It illustrates that rural and low-income regions are more likely to have limited access to internet 

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