The digital divide is narrowing, but there is still a stark difference between broadband access in rural America and the rest of the country.

That's the conclusion of a Pew Research Center study that says rural residents, on average, are 10 percentage points less likely to have high-speed internet at home.

"Rural Americans have made large gains in adopting digital technology in recent years, but they remain less likely than non-rural adults to have home broadband, smartphones and other devices," according to the survey, conducted in fall 2016.

Pew said 63 percent of rural residents report a broadband web connection at home, up sharply from 35 percent in 2007. At that time, 51 percent of all U.S. adults had in-home broadband, a 16 percentage point gap.

Now, with 73 percent of U.S. adults saying they have in-home broadband, the divide has narrowed to 10 points.

The report linked improved rural access to broadband with higher income levels. Some 84 percent of rural residents living in households and earning more than $75,000 a year said they have high-speed internet at home.

That's only slightly less than the 90 percent-plus penetration of broadband and smartphones among urban and suburban dwellers, the report said.

However, it's possible the unique characteristics of rural life will prevent small-town Americans from fully catching up with their more-wired counterparts in urban and suburban areas, Pew added.

"Even though rural areas are more wired today than in the past, substantial segments of rural America still lack the infrastructure needed for high-speed internet, and what access these areas do have tends to be slower than that of non-rural areas," it said.

Additionally, rural Americans are online much less frequently, according to the study. Some 58 percent of rural adults said they use the internet on at least a daily basis, lower total than urban adults at 80 percent or suburban adults at 76 percent. 

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