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See also: "Information and communication technologies for development

An individual must be able to connect in order to achieve enhancement of social and "cultural capital as well as achieve mass economic gains in productivity. Therefore, access is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for overcoming the digital divide. Access to ICT meets significant challenges that stem from income restrictions. The borderline between ICT as a "necessity good and ICT as a "luxury good is roughly around the "magical number" of US$10 per person per month, or US$120 per year,[38] which means that people consider ICT expenditure of US$120 per year as a basic necessity. Since more than 40% of the world population lives on less than US$2 per day, and around 20% live on less than US$1 per day (or less than US$365 per year), these income segments would have to spend one third of their income on ICT (120/365 = 33%). The global average of ICT spending is at a mere 3% of income.[38] Potential solutions include driving down the costs of ICT, which includes low cost technologies and shared access through "Telecentres.

Furthermore, even though individuals might be capable of accessing the Internet, many are thwarted by barriers to entry such as a lack of means to infrastructure or the inability to comprehend the information that the Internet provides. Lack of adequate infrastructure and lack of knowledge are two major obstacles that impede mass connectivity. These barriers limit individuals' capabilities in what they can do and what they can achieve in accessing technology. Some individuals have the ability to connect, but they do not have the knowledge to use what information ICTs and Internet technologies provide them. This leads to a focus on capabilities and skills, as well as awareness to move from mere access to effective usage of ICT.[8]

The "United Nations is aiming to raise awareness of the divide by way of the "World Information Society Day which has taken place yearly since May 17, 2006.[46] It also set up the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Task Force in November 2001.[47] Later "UN initiatives in this area are the "World Summit on the Information Society, which was set up in 2003, and the "Internet Governance Forum, set up in 2006.

In the year 2000, the "United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme launched its Online Volunteering service,[48] which uses ICT as a vehicle for and in support of volunteering. It constitutes an example of a volunteering initiative that effectively contributes to bridge the digital divide. ICT-enabled volunteering has a clear added value for development. If more people collaborate online with more development institutions and initiatives, this will imply an increase in person-hours dedicated to development cooperation at essentially no additional cost. This is the most visible effect of online volunteering for human development.[49]

Social media websites serve as both manifestations of and means by which to combat the digital divide. The former describes phenomena such as the divided users demographics that make up sites such as Facebook and Myspace or Word Press and Tumblr. Each of these sites host thriving communities that engage with otherwise marginalized populations. An example of this is the large online community devoted to Afrofuturism, a discourse that critiques dominant structures of power by merging themes of science fiction and blackness. Social media brings together minds that may not otherwise meet, allowing for the free exchange of ideas and empowerment of marginalized discourses.


A laptop lending kiosk at "Texas A&M University–Commerce's Gee Library

Attempts to bridge the digital divide include a program developed in Durban, South Africa, where very low access to technology and a lack of documented cultural heritage has motivated the creation of an "online indigenous digital library as part of public library services."[50] This project has the potential to narrow the digital divide by not only giving the people of the Durban area access to this digital resource, but also by incorporating the community members into the process of creating it.

Another attempt to narrow the digital divide takes the form of "One Laptop Per Child (OLPC).[51] This organization, founded in 2005, provides inexpensively produced "XO" laptops (dubbed the "$100 laptop", though actual production costs vary) to children residing in poor and isolated regions within developing countries. Each laptop belongs to an individual child and provides a gateway to digital learning and Internet access. The XO laptops are specifically designed to withstand more abuse than higher-end machines, and they contain features in context to the unique conditions that remote villages present. Each laptop is constructed to use as little power as possible, have a sunlight-readable screen, and is capable of automatically networking with other XO laptops in order to access the Internet—as many as 500 machines can share a single point of access.[51]

To address the divide The Gates Foundation began the Gates Library Initiative. The Gates Foundation focused on providing more than just access, they placed computers and provided training in libraries. In this manner if users began to struggle while using a computer, the user was in a setting where assistance and guidance was available. Further, the Gates Library Initiative was "modeled on the old-fashioned life preserver: The support needs to be around you to keep you afloat."[9]

In nations where poverty compounds effects of the digital divide, programs are emerging to counter those trends. Prior conditions in Kenya—lack of funding, language and technology illiteracy contributed to an overall lack of computer skills and educational advancement for those citizens. This slowly began to change when foreign investment began. In the early 2000s, The Carnegie Foundation funded a revitalization project through the Kenya National Library Service (KNLS). Those resources enabled public libraries to provide information and communication technologies (ICT) to their patrons. In 2012, public libraries in the Busia and Kiberia communities introduced technology resources to supplement curriculum for primary schools. By 2013, the program expanded into ten schools.[52]

Effective use[edit]

"Community Informatics (CI) provides a somewhat different approach to addressing the digital divide by focusing on issues of "use" rather than simply "access". CI is concerned with ensuring the opportunity not only for ICT access at the community level but also, according to "Michael Gurstein, that the means for the "effective use" of ICTs for community betterment and empowerment are available.[53] Gurstein has also extended the discussion of the digital divide to include issues around access to and the use of "open data" and coined the term "data divide" to refer to this issue area.[54]


Social capital[edit]

Once an individual is connected, Internet connectivity and ICTs can enhance his or her future social and cultural capital. "Social capital is acquired through repeated interactions with other individuals or groups of individuals. Connecting to the Internet creates another set of means by which to achieve repeated interactions. ICTs and Internet connectivity enable repeated interactions through access to social networks, chat rooms, and gaming sites. Once an individual has access to connectivity, obtains infrastructure by which to connect, and can understand and use the information that ICTs and connectivity provide, that individual is capable of becoming a "digital citizen".[30]

Economic disparity[edit]

In the United States, research provided by Sungard Availability Services notes a direct correlation between a company's access to technological advancements and its overall success in bolstering the economy.[55] The study, which includes over 2,000 IT executives and staff officers, indicates that 69 percent of employees feel they do not have access to sufficient technology in order to make their jobs easier, while 63 percent of them believe the lack of technological mechanisms hinders their ability to develop new work skills.[56] Additional analysis provides more evidence to show how the digital divide also affects the economy in places all over the world. A BCG Report suggests that in countries like Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K., the digital connection among communities is made easier, allowing for their populations to obtain a much larger share of the economies via digital business.[57] In fact, in these places, populations hold shares approximately 2.5 percentage points higher.[58]


The digital divide also impacts children's ability to learn and grow in low-income school districts. Without Internet access, students are unable to cultivate necessary tech skills in order to understand today's dynamic economy.[59] Federal Communication Commission's Broadband Task Force created a report showing that about 70% of teachers give students homework that demand access to broadband.[60] Even more, approximately 65% of young scholars use the Internet at home to complete assignments as well as connect with teachers and other students via discussion boards and shared files.[61] A recent study indicates that practically 50% of students say that they are unable to finish their homework due to an inability to either connect to the Internet, or in some cases, find a computer.[62] This has led to a new revelation: 42% of students say they received a lower grade because of this disadvantage.[63] Finally, according to research conducted by the Center for American Progress, "if the United States were able to close the educational achievement gaps between native-born white children and black and Hispanic children, the U.S. economy would be 5.8 percent—or nearly $2.3 trillion—larger in 2050".[64]

Demographic differences[edit]

Furthermore, according to the 2012 Pew Report "Digital Differences", a mere 62% of households who make less than $30,000 a year use the Internet, while 90% of those making between $50,000 and $75,000 had access.[65] Studies also show that only 51% of Hispanics and 49% of African Americans have high-speed Internet at home. This is compared to the 66% of Caucasians that too have high-speed Internet in their households.[66] Overall, 10% of all Americans don't have access to high-speed Internet, an equivalent of almost 34 million people.[67] Supplemented reports from the Guardian demonstrate the global effects of limiting technological developments in poorer nations, rather than simply the effects in the United States. Their study shows that the rapid digital expansion excludes those who find themselves in the lower class. 60% of the world's population, almost 4 billion people, have no access to the Internet and are thus left worse off.[68]


Knowledge divide[edit]

Since gender, age, racial, income, and educational gaps in the digital divide have lessened compared to past levels, some researchers suggest that the digital divide is shifting from a gap in access and connectivity to ICTs to a "knowledge divide.[69] A knowledge divide concerning technology presents the possibility that the gap has moved beyond access and having the resources to connect to ICTs to interpreting and understanding information presented once connected.[70]

Second-level digital divide[edit]

The second-level digital divide, also referred to as the production gap, describes the gap that separates the consumers of content on the Internet from the producers of content.[71] As the technological digital divide is decreasing between those with access to the Internet and those without, the meaning of the term digital divide is evolving.[69] Previously, digital divide research has focused on accessibility to the Internet and Internet consumption. However, with more and more of the population with access to the Internet, researchers are examining how people use the Internet to create content and what impact socioeconomics are having on user behavior.[10][72] New applications have made it possible for anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to be a creator of content, yet the majority of user generated content available widely on the Internet, like public blogs, is created by a small portion of the Internet using population. "Web 2.0 technologies like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Blogs enable users to participate online and create content without having to understand how the technology actually works, leading to an ever-increasing digital divide between those who have the skills and understanding to interact more fully with the technology and those who are passive consumers of it.[71] Many are only nominal content creators through the use of Web 2.0, posting photos and status updates on Facebook, but not truly interacting with the technology.

Some of the reasons for this production gap include material factors like the type of Internet connection one has and the frequency of access to the Internet. The more frequently a person has access to the Internet and the faster the connection, the more opportunities they have to gain the technology skills and the more time they have to be creative.[73]

Other reasons include cultural factors often associated with class and socioeconomic status. Users of lower socioeconomic status are less likely to participate in content creation due to disadvantages in education and lack of the necessary free time for the work involved in blog or web site creation and maintenance.[73] Additionally, there is evidence to support the existence of the second-level digital divide at the K-12 level based on how educators' use technology for instruction.[74] Schools' economic factors have been found to explain variation in how teachers use technology to promote higher-order thinking skills.[74]

The global digital divide[edit]

Internet users per 100 inhabitants
Source: "International Telecommunications Union.[75][76]
Global bandwidth concentration: 3 countries have almost 50 %; 10 countries almost 75 %[14]
"Worldwide Internet users
  2005 2010 2016a
World population[77] 6.5 billion 6.9 billion 7.3 billion
Not using the Internet 84% 70% 53%
Using the Internet 16% 30% 47%
Users in the developing world 8% 21% 40%
Users in the developed world 51% 67% 81%
a Estimate.
Source: "International Telecommunications Union.[78]
Internet users by region
  2005 2010 2016a
Africa       2%             10%             25%      
Americas 36% 49% 65%
Arab States 8% 26% 42%
Asia and Pacific 9% 23% 42%
Commonwealth of
Independent States
Europe 46% 67% 79%
a Estimate.
Source: "International Telecommunication Union.[79]
"Worldwide broadband subscriptions
  2007 2010 2014a
World population[81] 6.6 billion 6.9 billion 7.2 billion
Fixed broadband 5% 8% 10%
Developing world 2% 4% 6%
Developed world 18% 24% 27%
Mobile broadband 4% 11% 32%
Developing world 1% 4% 21%
Developed world 19% 43% 84%
a Estimate.
Source: "International Telecommunication Union.[82]
Broadband subscriptions by region
  Fixed subscriptions:    2007 2010 2014a  
Africa 0.1% 0.2% 0.4%
Americas 11% 14% 17%
Arab States 1% 2% 3%
Asia and Pacific 3% 6% 8%
Commonwealth of
Independent States
Europe 18% 24% 28%
  Mobile subscriptions:    2007 2010 2014a  
Africa 0.2% 2% 19%
Americas 6% 23% 59%
Arab States 0.8% 5% 25%
Asia and Pacific 3% 7% 23%
Commonwealth of
Independent States
Europe 15% 29% 64%
a Estimate.
Source: "International Telecommunications Union.[83]

The global digital divide describes global disparities, primarily between "developed and "developing countries, in regards to access to computing and information resources such as the "Internet and the opportunities derived from such access.[84] As with a smaller "unit of analysis, this gap describes an inequality that exists, referencing a global scale.

The Internet is expanding very quickly, and not all countries—especially developing countries—are able to keep up with the constant changes. The term "digital divide" doesn't necessarily mean that someone doesn’t have technology; it could mean that there is simply a difference in technology. These differences can refer to, for example, high-quality computers, fast Internet, technical assistance, or telephone services. The difference between all of these is also considered a gap.

In fact, there is a large inequality worldwide in terms of the distribution of installed telecommunication bandwidth. In 2014 only 3 countries (China, US, Japan) host 50% of the globally installed bandwidth potential (see pie-chart Figure on the right).[14] This concentration is not new, as historically only 10 countries have hosted 70–75% of the global telecommunication capacity (see Figure). The U.S. lost its global leadership in terms of installed bandwidth in 2011, being replaced by China, which hosts more than twice as much national bandwidth potential in 2014 (29% versus 13% of the global total).[14]

Versus the digital divide[edit]

The global digital divide is a special case of the digital divide, the focus is set on the fact that "Internet has developed unevenly throughout the world"[34]:681 causing some countries to fall behind in technology, education, labor, democracy, and tourism. The concept of the digital divide was originally popularized in regard to the disparity in Internet access between rural and urban areas of the United States of America; the global digital divide mirrors this disparity on an international scale.

The global digital divide also contributes to the inequality of access to goods and services available through technology. Computers and the Internet provide users with improved education, which can lead to higher wages; the people living in nations with limited access are therefore disadvantaged.[85] This global divide is often characterized as falling along what is sometimes called the "north-south divide of "northern" wealthier nations and "southern" poorer ones.

Obstacles to overcoming it[edit]

Some people argue that basic necessities need to be considered before achieving digital inclusion, such as an ample food supply and quality health care. Minimizing the global digital divide requires considering and addressing the following types of access:

Physical access

Involves "the distribution of ICT devices per capita…and land lines per thousands".[35]:306 Individuals need to obtain access to computers, landlines, and networks in order to access the Internet. This access barrier is also addressed in Article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the United Nations.

Financial access

The cost of ICT devices, traffic, applications, technician and educator training, software, maintenance and infrastructures require ongoing financial means.[38]

Socio-demographic access

Empirical tests have identified that several socio-demographic characteristics foster or limit ICT access and usage. Among different countries, educational levels and income are the most powerful explanatory variables, with age being a third one.[11][38] Others, like gender, don't seem to have much of an independent effect after controlling for income, education and employment.[39]

Cognitive access

In order to use computer technology, a certain level of information literacy is needed. Further challenges include information overload and the ability to find and use reliable information.

Design access

Computers need to be accessible to individuals with different learning and physical abilities including complying with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 in the United States.[86]

Institutional access

In illustrating institutional access, Wilson states "the numbers of users are greatly affected by whether access is offered only through individual homes or whether it is offered through schools, community centers, religious institutions, cybercafés, or post offices, especially in poor countries where computer access at work or home is highly limited".[35]:303

Political access

Guillen & Suarez argue that "democratic political regimes enable a faster growth of the Internet than authoritarian or totalitarian regimes".[34]:687 The Internet is considered a form of e-democracy and attempting to control what citizens can or cannot view is in contradiction to this. Recently situations in Iran and China have denied people the ability to access certain website and disseminate information. Iran has also prohibited the use of high-speed Internet in the country and has removed many satellite dishes in order to prevent the influence of western culture, such as music and "television.[87]

Cultural Access

Many experts claim that bridging the digital divide is not sufficient and that the images and language needed to be conveyed in a language and images that can be read across different cultural lines.[36]

Concrete examples[edit]

In the early 21st century, residents of "First World countries enjoy many Internet services which are not yet widely available in "Third World countries, including:

Global solutions[edit]

Information and Communication Technologies for Development

There are four specific arguments why it is important to "bridge the gap":[89]

While these four arguments are meant to lead to a solution to the digital divide, there are a couple other components that need to be considered. The first one is rural living versus suburban living. Rural areas used to have very minimal access to the Internet, for example. However, nowadays, power lines and satellites are used to increase the availability in these areas. Another component to keep in mind is disabilities. Some people may have the highest quality technologies, but a disability they have may keep them from using these technologies to their fullest extent.[89]

Using previous studies (Gamos, 2003; Nsengiyuma & Stork, 2005; Harwit, 2004 as cited in James), James asserts that in developing countries, "internet use has taken place overwhelmingly among the upper-income, educated, and urban segments" largely due to the high literacy rates of this sector of the population.[90]:58 As such, James suggests that part of the solution requires that developing countries first build up the literacy/language skills, computer literacy, and technical competence that low-income and rural populations need in order to make use of ICT.

It has also been suggested that there is a correlation between democrat regimes and the growth of the Internet. One hypothesis by Gullen is, "The more democratic the polity, the greater the Internet use...Government can try to control the Internet by monopolizing control" and Norris et al. also contends, "If there is less government control of it, the Internet flourishes, and it is associated with greater democracy and civil liberties.[91]

From an economic perspective, Pick and Azari state that "in developing nations…foreign direct investment (FDI), primary education, educational investment, access to education, and government prioritization of ICT as all important".[91]:112 Specific solutions proposed by the study include: "invest in stimulating, attracting, and growing creative technical and scientific workforce; increase the access to education and digital literacy; reduce the gender divide and empower women to participate in the ICT workforce; emphasize investing in intensive Research and Development for selected metropolitan areas and regions within nations".[91]:111

There are projects worldwide that have implemented, to various degrees, the solutions outlined above. Many such projects have taken the form of Information Communications Technology Centers (ICT centers). Rahnman explains that "the main role of ICT intermediaries is defined as an organization providing effective support to local communities in the use and adaptation of technology. Most commonly an ICT intermediary will be a specialized organization from outside the community, such as a non-governmental organization, local government, or international donor. On the other hand, a social intermediary is defined as a local institution from within the community, such as a community-based organization.[92]:128

Other proposed solutions that the Internet promises for developing countries are the provision of efficient communications within and among developing countries, so that citizens worldwide can effectively help each other to solve their own problems. Grameen Banks and Kiva loans are two microcredit systems designed to help citizens worldwide to contribute online towards entrepreneurship in developing communities. Economic opportunities range from entrepreneurs who can afford the hardware and broadband access required to maintain Internet cafés to agribusinesses having control over the seeds they plant.

At the "Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the IMARA organization (from "Swahili word for "power") sponsors a variety of outreach programs which bridge the Global Digital Divide. Its aim is to find and implement long-term, sustainable solutions which will increase the availability of educational technology and resources to domestic and international communities. These projects are run under the aegis of the "MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and staffed by MIT volunteers who give training, install and donate computer setups in greater "Boston, "Massachusetts, "Kenya, Indian reservations the American Southwest such as the "Navajo Nation, the "Middle East, and "Fiji Islands. The CommuniTech project strives to empower underserved communities through sustainable technology and education.[93][94][95] According to Dominik Hartmann of the MIT's Media Lab, interdisciplinary approaches are needed to bridge the global digital divide.[96]

Building on the premise that any effective solution must be decentralized, allowing the local communities in developing nations to generate their own content, one scholar has posited that social media—like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter—may be useful tools in closing the divide.[97] As Amir Hatem Ali suggests, "the popularity and generative nature of social media empower individuals to combat some of the main obstacles to bridging the digital divide".[97]:188 Facebook’s statistics reinforce this claim. According to Facebook, more than seventy-five percent of its users reside outside of the US.[98] Moreover, more than seventy languages are presented on its website.[98] The reasons for the high number of international users are due to many the qualities of Facebook and other social media. Amongst them, are its ability to offer a means of interacting with others, user-friendly features, and the fact that most sites are available at no cost.[97] The problem with social media, however, is that it can be accessible, provided that there is physical access.[97] Nevertheless, with its ability to encourage digital inclusion, social media can be used as a tool to bridge the global digital divide.[97]

Some cities in the world have started programs to bridge the digital divide for their residents, school children, students, parents and the elderly. One such program, founded in 1996, was sponsored by the city of Boston and called the Boston Digital Bridge Foundation.[99] It especially concentrates on school children and their parents, helping to make both equally and similarly knowledgeable about computers, using application programs, and navigating the Internet.[100][101]

World Summit on the Information Society[edit]

World Summit on the Information Society

Several of the 67 principles adopted at the "World Summit on the Information Society convened by the "United Nations in Geneva in 2003 directly address the digital divide:[102]

10. We are also fully aware that the benefits of the information technology revolution are today unevenly distributed between the developed and developing countries and within societies. We are fully committed to turning this digital divide into a digital opportunity for all, particularly for those who risk being left behind and being further marginalized.
11. We are committed to realizing our common vision of the Information Society for ourselves and for future generations. We recognize that young people are the future workforce and leading creators and earliest adopters of ICTs. They must therefore be empowered as learners, developers, contributors, entrepreneurs and decision-makers. We must focus especially on young people who have not yet been able to benefit fully from the opportunities provided by ICTs. We are also committed to ensuring that the development of ICT applications and operation of services respects the rights of children as well as their protection and well-being.
12. We affirm that development of ICTs provides enormous opportunities for women, who should be an integral part of, and key actors, in the Information Society. We are committed to ensuring that the Information Society enables women's empowerment and their full participation on the basis on equality in all spheres of society and in all decision-making processes. To this end, we should mainstream a gender equality perspective and use ICTs as a tool to that end.
13. In building the Information Society, we shall pay particular attention to the special needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups of society, including migrants, internally displaced persons and refugees, unemployed and underprivileged people, minorities and nomadic people. We shall also recognize the special needs of older persons and persons with disabilities.
14. We are resolute to empower the poor, particularly those living in remote, rural and marginalized urban areas, to access information and to use ICTs as a tool to support their efforts to lift themselves out of poverty.
15. In the evolution of the Information Society, particular attention must be given to the special situation of indigenous peoples, as well as to the preservation of their heritage and their cultural legacy.
16. We continue to pay special attention to the particular needs of people of developing countries, countries with economies in transition, Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, Landlocked Developing Countries, Highly Indebted Poor Countries, countries and territories under occupation, countries recovering from conflict and countries and regions with special needs as well as to conditions that pose severe threats to development, such as natural disasters.
21. Connectivity is a central enabling agent in building the Information Society. Universal, ubiquitous, equitable and affordable access to ICT infrastructure and services, constitutes one of the challenges of the Information Society and should be an objective of all stakeholders involved in building it. Connectivity also involves access to energy and postal services, which should be assured in conformity with the domestic legislation of each country.
28. We strive to promote universal access with equal opportunities for all to scientific knowledge and the creation and dissemination of scientific and technical information, including open access initiatives for scientific publishing.
46. In building the Information Society, States are strongly urged to take steps with a view to the avoidance of, and refrain from, any unilateral measure not in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations that impedes the full achievement of economic and social development by the population of the affected countries, and that hinders the well-being of their population.

See also[edit]

Groups devoted to digital divide issues


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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