Nearly a third of US households don’t have a broadband connection

Over the past several years, many have suggested that broadband internet should be regarded as a public utility, like water or gas. Staying connected has become an essential part of nearly every facet of life, but according to a new report, high-speed connections may not be as prevalent here in the States as you may think.

In its new Rural America and Technology study, NPD notes that 31% of U.S. households don’t have broadband (25Mbps downloads and up) internet connections. The number works out to roughly 100 million per the report. That figure, unsurprisingly, is highly concentrated in rural areas — less than one-fifth of that population has a broadband connection.

While broadband was considered something of a luxury in the not so distant past, it’s grown into an increasingly essential aspect of modern existence, from work to health to entertainment. The concentration of access to the technology in urban versus rural areas has been a major aspect in what analysts have referred to as the “digital divide.” Rural areas make up nearly 97% of the total U.S. land.

On the upside, the report suggests that 5G could have a profound impact on those numbers. “The roll out of 5G will have a significant impact in rural America, disrupting the limited broadband carrier market and delivering broadband to many households that have not previously had access,” NPD’s Eddie Hold said in a statement released with the report. “This will inevitably provide an opportunity for manufacturers and retailers to reach new consumers with advanced devices.”

Given the speed and spottiness with which the technology has been rolled out thus far, however, coupled with the high prices of first-generation handsets, it will likely take several years before that comes to pass.