To assist in providing policy-relevant information about conditions in sparsely-settled, remote areas of the U.S. to public officials, researchers, and the general public, ERS has developed ZIP-code-level frontier and remote area (FAR) codes. The aim is not to provide a single definition, but to meet the demand for a delineation that is both geographically detailed and adjustable with reasonable ranges, in order to be usefully applied in diverse research and policy contexts. This updated set of codes, based on urban-rural data from the 2010 decennial census, provides four FAR definition levels, ranging from one that is relatively inclusive (12.2 million FAR level one residents) to one that is more restrictive (2.3 million FAR level four residents).
The term "frontier and remote" is used here to describe territory characterized by some combination of low population size and high geographic remoteness. FAR areas are defined in relation to the time it takes to travel by car to the edges of nearby Urban Areas (UAs). Four levels are necessary because rural areas experience degrees of remoteness at higher or lower population levels that affect access to different types of goods and services. A relatively large number of people live far from cities providing "high order" goods and services, such as advanced medical procedures, stores selling major household appliances, regional airport hubs, or professional sports franchises. Level one FAR codes are meant to approximate this degree of remoteness. A much smaller, but still significant, number of people find it hard to access "low order" goods and services, such as grocery stores, gas stations, and basic health-care services. Level four FAR codes more closely coincide with this much higher degree of remoteness. Other types of goods and services—clothing stores, car dealerships, movie theaters—fall somewhere in between. Users are able to choose the definition that bests suits their specific needs.
See the Documentation for detailed description of criteria, data sources and methodology.