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Government says rural areas lag behind in broadband speeds

More than 28 percent of the U.S. rural population does not have access to midrange 3Mb/s broadband service, according to a new report from the FCC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture released last week.

The rural broadband report shows large gaps in broadband service between rural and urban/suburban areas. The differences appear to be narrowing, but many rural residents “still lack access to the kind of broadband that most Americans take for granted,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.

“That is not acceptable, and it’s why the FCC has launched major initiatives to overhaul our universal service system, free more spectrum and reduce barriers to broadband deployment,” the FCC chairman said. “These efforts will help ensure that high-speed Internet can connect rural communities to global markets, jobs and world-class education and health care.”

About 26.2 million residents don’t have access to 3Mb/s service, with nearly 73 percent of them living in rural areas, the report said. In Indiana, nearly 63 percent of the state’s 1.8 million residents lack access to 6Mb/s service. In Minnesota, nearly 57 percent of its 1.6 million rural residents lack access to 6Mb/s service.

Genachowski said broadband is important to rural businesses and residents. “In America’s small towns, just as in its large cities, broadband is vital to economic growth, to job creation, to entrepreneurship and the success of small businesses, and to education and healthcare,” he said.

The FCC’s national broadband plan, released in March 2010, sets a goal of delivering 100Mb/s service to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress after the economic crash in early 2009, included more than $7 billion for broadband deployment across the United States. Many of those projects are in development.