Digital divide

Digital divide
Graph of internet users per 100 inhabitants between 1997 and 2007 by International Telecommunication Union
Mobile phone subscribers per 100 inhabitants growth in developed and developing world between 1997 and 2007

The digital divide refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communications technologies (ICT's) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities.[1] It includes the imbalance both in physical access to technology and the resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen. Knowledge divide reflects the access of various social groupings to information and knowledge, typically gender, income, race, and by location.[2] The term global digital divide refers to differences in access between countries in regards to the internet and its means of information flow.


Origins of the term

Initially referring to the gap in ownership of computers between certain ethnic groups,[3][4] the term came into usage in the mid-1990s), appearing in several news articles and political speeches.[5] President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore both used the term in a 1996 speech in Knoxville, Tennessee.[6] Larry Irving, a former United States head of the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and technology adviser to the Clinton Administration, noted that a series of NTIA surveys[7][8][9][10] were "catalysts for the popularity, ubiquity, and redefinition" of the term, and he used the term in a series of later reports.[5] During the George W. Bush Administration, the NTIA reports[11][12] tended to focus less on the availability of the necessary hardware, more on Internet access, broadband in particular, and the disparity of access between the developed and developing worlds.

In 1998 it became the title of a National Telecommunications and Information Administration survey.[13]

In 2000, the authors Donna Hoffman, Thomas Novak, and Ann E. Schlosser credited Lloyd Morrisett, the former president of the Markle Foundation, for applying the term to the information "haves" and "have-nots.[13]

Current usage

There are several definitions of the term. Bharat Mehra defines it simply as the troubling gap between those who use computers and the Internet and those who do not.[14]

More recently, some have used the term to refer to gaps in broadband network access.[4] The term can mean not only unequal access to computer hardware, but also inequalities between groups of people in the ability to use information technology fully.[15]

Given the range of criteria used to assess the various technological disparities between groups/nations, and lack of data on some aspects of usage, the exact nature of the digital divide is both contextual and debatable. Lisa Servon argued in 2002 that the digital divide is a symptom of a larger and more complex problem -- that of persistent poverty and inequality.[16] Mehra (2004), identifies socioeconomic status, income, educational level, and race among other factors associated with technological attainment, or the potential of the Internet to improve everyday life for those on the margins of society and to achieve greater social equity and empowerment.[14]

The conclusion from the various existing definitions of the digital divide is that the nature of the divide, and the question if it is closing or widening, depends on the particular definition chosen. Based on the theory of the diffusion of innovations through social networks, a common framework can be set up to distinguish the main approaches researchers have taken to conceptualize the digital divide. All kinds of studies and approaches to the digital divide can be classified into these four categories:[17]

  • WHO (level of analysis): individuals vs. organizations/communities, vs. societies/countries/ world regions;
  • with WHICH characteristics (attributes of nodes and ties): income, education, geography, age, gender, or type of ownership, size, profitability, sector, etc.;
  • connects HOW (level digital sophistication): access vs. usage vs. impact;
  • to WHAT (type of technology): phone, Internet, computer, digital TV, etc.

This results in a matrix with four distinct dimensions, whereas each dimension consists of various variables. Each additional variable increases the combinatorial complexity of this matrix exponentially. For example, counting with only 3 different choices of subjects (individuals, organizations, or countries), each with 4 characteristics (age, wealth, geography, sector), distinguishing between 3 levels of digital adoption (access, actual usage and effective adoption), and 6 types of technologies (fixed phone, mobile phone, computer, digital TV, general Internet, broadband with a certain speed), already results in (3 x 4 x 3 x 6) = 216 different ways to define the digital divide. Each one of them seems equally reasonable and depends on the objective pursued by the analyst and eventually on the desired impact. Therefore, given this large variety of possible definitions, the key (in practice) is to define the digital divide in terms of the desired impact (of the researcher or policy maker), which then determines the adequate definition of the digital divide in a given context: Given the desired impact, who, with which characteristics, should best be connected how to what?[17]


Typically, measurements of inequality distribution used to describe the digital divide are the Lorenz curve and Gini coefficient.[18] In the Lorenz curve, perfect equality of Internet usage across nations is represented by a 45-degree diagonal line, which has a Gini coefficient of zero. Perfect inequality gives a Gini coefficient of one. However, the question of whether or not the digital divide is growing or closing is difficult to answer.

The Canadian document Bridging the digital divide: An opportunity for growth for the 21st century includes examples of these measures.[18] Figures 2.4 and 2.5 in the document show a trend of growing equality from 1997 to 2005 with the Gini coefficient decreasing. However, these graphs do not show detailed analysis of specific income groups.[19] The progress represented is predominantly of the middle-income groups when compared to the highest income groups. The lowest income groups continue to decrease their level of equality in comparison to the high income groups. Therefore, there is still a long way to go before the digital divide will be eliminated.[19]

In the United States: Since 2000 the use of broadband Internet has risen drastically in the American home. In an August 2000 National Telecommunications and Information Administration survey 41.5 percent of households had an Internet connection with 4.4 percent of households connecting with a broadband source. By October 2010, 71.1 percent of American households were connected to the Internet with 68.2 percent connected with a broadband connection. [20]

Different forms


Education is one area where the digital divide is prominent.

One area of significant focus in the United States was school computer access. In the 1990s, better resourced schools were much more likely to provide their students with regular computer access; and, at the end of the decade, these schools were much more likely to have internet access.[21]

In the context of schools which have consistently been involved in discussion of the divide, current formulations focus more on how (and whether) students use computers, rather than simply whether there are computers or Internet connections.[22] Public libraries[23] and afterschool programs[24] have also been shown to be important access and training locations for disadvantaged youth. However, as discussed in further detail later on, even libraries cannot fully fix the problem of inequality between the have and have-nots.

According to Lauren Chapman, Jessica Masters, and Joseph Pedulla, the technical skills of teachers are one important factor that should be questioned when considering the issue of digital divide within education. Students growing up in today’s society are recognized as digital natives, or individuals who have been surrounded by technology their entire lives. Although it is important that students are provided with technology within the classroom, it is first important that teachers have technical skills that allow them to teach their students how to use different types of technology. If teachers do not have technological skills, they cannot expect to teach their students about technology. According to the Title I statute, students have the right to equal educational rights and teachers must make sure to provide these rights to students. It is important that teachers receive the necessary degrees and skills so that they are able to provide students with the correct methods of implementing technological devices.[25] Stuht and Colcord also offer a similar point of view, suggesting that teachers need to be aware of the technological advancements that exist so that they can keep up with their students and integrate technologies into their teachings, as well as the classroom environment.[26] Although digital divide is a large problem because of the lack of technologies available in the educational system, it is first important to evaluate whether or not teachers are technologically experienced so that they can they implement the use of technology within their classrooms, as well as teach students more about technology.[25]

The E-Rate program in the United States (officially the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund), authorized in 1996 and implemented in 1997, directly addressed the technology gap between rich and poor schools by allocating money from telecom taxes to poor schools without technology resources. According to Chapman, Masters and Pedulla, the E-Rate Programme has spent up to $2.25 billion for Internet and communications technologies within the educational system. [25]Though the program faced criticism and controversy in its methods of disbursement, E-Rate has been credited with increasing the overall number of public classrooms with Internet access from 14% in 1996 to 95% in 2005.[27] Recently, discussions of a digital divide in school access have broadened to include technology related skills and training in addition to basic access to computers and Internet access.[28] Broadening students’ technology related skills is a key part of eliminating the digital divide and this is discussed in further detail later in this article.

Access to technology is often divided within schools according to socio-economic status (SES). Laura Robinson identified both “temporal and emotional costs” for the lower SES children who have no or low-quality access at home.[29] Temporal costs refer to the additional time that low SES students must spend to access technology (such as the need to access shared computers at public facilities, reached by public transportation). Further, Robinson found that the additional costs that low SES students incur result in them having less skill in using the internet to conduct classroom research. In particular, she noted that low SES students are not as adept at performing efficient, deep internet searches for research projects, and have difficulty distinguishing credible information from non-credible information.[29]

Dianne Thomas has recognized digital divide problems also relating to socioeconomic status. Title I students are defined as students who come from low-income families and attend a funded school. Thomas has found a problem between the access that Title I students have compared to non-Title I students, or students who are of middle or high socioeconomic status. After Title I and non-Title I students completed surveys relating to computer use and skills in 2007, it became evident that students who came from low income families and lower socioeconomic status did not have as much access to computers or technologies as those who came from high or middle class families. It was not only concluded that non-Title I students had higher access to computers at home, but also a larger rate of Internet access as well. Title I students also admitted to using school computers more than at home, compared to non-Title I students, who had regular computer access at home. A large gap can be seen between students from lower socioeconomic classes and those of higher socioeconomic status, which contributes to the issue of digital divide. Because Title I students come from lower socioeconomic status, computer accessibility is not as accessible to them as non-Title I students. This lack of computer or Internet accessibility contributes to the issue of great divide because students of lower socioeconomic status do not have the opportunity to gain necessary technological skills.[30]

Within the education system there is another digital divide emerging because teachers and students are beginning to view technology use in different ways. There is also an unequal access to technology between teachers and students. A survey carried out by CDW-G revealed that almost 100 percent of students use technology for school assignments but less than half of teachers make it a necessity for school assignments. The survey also revealed that less than half of students had access to technology while at school but 75 percent of teachers had access to it.[31] However there are efforts being made by some school districts and teachers in the United States to solve this problem. One example of this is a group of 4-6 graders at a school in Nevada who each have a Mac laptop to use for assignments and blog entries. Another example is the "mobile learning device" initiative being carried out by a school in Katy, Texas. In this initiative 5th grade students use texting and telephone function disabled cell phones converted into mini computers to do school assignments and homework. These cell phones are equipped with a touch screen and a small keyboard. However not everyone is optimistic about this pilot project because they think that small mobile devices are not enough to make a student computer literate.[32]

Education also extends beyond the classroom. Given that developing countries do not have access to extensive educational opportunities, there is still a great need for technological education. Technology has the potential to greatly contribute to the prosperity of developing areas. By bridging the digital divide, it is possible for poverty-stricken regions to enhance communication with other countries, therefore offering economic, social, and political opportunities.[33] With this however, there are several key misconceptions regarding the digital revolution. As noted by the Digital Divide Organization, introducing and implementing technology in poverty-stricken areas requires more than merely providing the resources. Poor areas need more than the equipment; they need to know how to use the technology in a resourceful way so that they can improve their circumstances, whether it is related to health care, economic support, or other areas of distress.[34] While the digital divide is narrowing in developing countries due to the increase in portable telephones and Internet access, there is still a great deal of progress to be made. According to Reuters, mobile phones in developing countries have greatly contributed to the economic success as small businesses expand their scope of communication and increase the number of transactions made. Additionally, the number of Internet users are increasing in these areas, which shows that resources continue to infiltrate poor regions of the world.[35] Although these facts exemplify significant advancements, the problem of literacy remains as one of the primary setbacks for poverty stricken areas. The misconception here lies in the fact that most people see the availability of technology as the primary factor in reducing the digital divide. As Ranjit Devraj states, “Even literate South Asians cannot benefit from the IT revolution without a working knowledge of the English language because of poor 'localisation' -- a highly technical process by which computer programmes are translated into another language.”[36] Therefore, in order for the digital divide to decrease, more people must learn to use the technology.

Some companies have sought to bridge the digital divide in the classroom through programs such as One Laptop per Child. This organization's mission is to raise money and awareness (and, in so doing, reduce overall poverty) by providing low cost laptops to underprivileged children.[37]


In absolute terms, women have less access to and use ICT less than men. As a result, a stereotype has been developed that women are rather technophobic, have less interest in, and are less capable using technology. In his article "The digital divide: the special case of gender", J. Cooper states that there is “a dramatic digital divide for gender such that women are not reaping the benefits of the technological revolution on a par with men.”[38] Cooper believes this is due to the types of toys that children play with. While girls play with dolls, boys play with video games and become more connected with technology. Men have always been present in the technology world and the software may be designed primarily to appeal to men. It is also argued that the stereotype of the tech-savvy man acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy.[38]

Contrary to these claims, careful and broad-based statistical tests in 25 different countries have revealed that the reason why fewer women access and use ICT is a direct result of their unfavorable conditions with respect to employment, education and income.[39] Women have and use less ICT not because they are women (per se), but because social practice provides them with less employment, less education, and less income, which again leads to less ICT access and usage. When controlling for these variables, women turn out to be more active users of digital tools than men. In other words, the fact of being a women contributes positively to using ICT. Women, traditionally thought of as being better communicators than men, seem to have a natural proximity with these new tools for communication. It is the unfortunate social status of women, and the elevated social status of men, that leads to the fact that men have more access and use more ICT than women, not gender per se. In contrary to a "digital-gender-divide", ICT therefore provide a "digital-gender-opportunity" for women: given that ICT have the potential to provide access to employment, education, income and health services, women's natural affinity with ICT provide them with a unique bootstrapping opportunity to pull themselves out of this discriminatory situation. In other words, if woman are provided with ICT, digital tools represent a tangible opportunity for women to tackle longstanding challenges of gender inequalities, including access to employment, income, education and health services.[39]

Women's embracement of ICT is also reconfirmed by the fact that once ICT penetration reaches almost universal access (above two-thirds of society), the digital divide with reference to gender is becoming less and less attenuated, and even turns around. The U.S. Department of Commerce showed, between 2001 and 2004, women used the Internet by one percent more than men.[40] 2009 Census data suggests that the gender divide in the US has become nearly nonexistent; 73% of female citizens three years and older could access the internet from their home, compared to 74% of males. Additionally, 68.8% of females three years and older were able to access the internet from some location (either within their household or outside), compared to 67.9% of males.[41] Similarly, in China, between 1997 and 2002 the percentage of internet users who are women rose from 12% to 39%.[42]


Lack of accommodation for people with disabilities causes a gap in those people's abilities to access to technology . According to a Pew Research Study[43] “One in four American adults live with a disability that interferes with activities of daily living. Fifty-four percent of adults living with a disability use the internet, compared with 81% of adults who report none of the disabilities listed in the survey. Two percent of American adults say they have a disability or illness that makes it harder or impossible for them to use the internet."

For persons with disabilities, the gaps in access and usage of the Internet are complex and differ based on the type of disability. It is estimated that people with disabilities use the Internet and related technologies half as often as the rest of the general population. This finding can be attributed to the fact that the Internet is currently not configured to be user friendly toward people with varying disabilities. For example, persons with visual impairments can face major obstacles when it comes to reading a screen and the use of color schemes in programs like PowerPoint can negatively impact users with colorblindness. Persons with mobility impairments face other challenges and have difficulty using devices such as the mouse and the keyboard. The layout of buttons is often too compressed and too small, making it difficult for someone with limited dexterity to function. For persons with hearing impairments a lack of text equivalents of audio content can dramatically limit the content of a website and make web chats and other conferencing features virtually impossible. Similarly, people with speech and communication impairments can also be excluded from web chats. For people with seizure disorders the rates of flickering and flash seen on the Internet can compromise one’s health. While there are a range of disabilities that prevent people from using the Internet, there are ways to develop and implement technologies so that persons with disabilities can participate more actively in the Internet. The tools exist today to close the digital divide with regard to the disabled but rarely are these technologies applied in the development of web design. Many website developers do not consider persons with disabilities due to a lack of awareness of the challenges faced by these users in what seems to be a relatively simple process for so many. The movement to create equal access for people with disabilities is still in an early phase. There is a growing recognition that access to online accessibility for most persons with disabilities is deficient and that there are technologies that can change this reality. [44]

Another reason behind the digital divide relating to disabled person(s) include the lack of Information and Communications Technologies, or ICT’S, in a disabled persons life. The ICT industry has focused its attention on individuals other than the disabled, leaving disabled individuals with a lack of computer or Internet access. For example, individuals with visual impairments find it difficult to use computers because ICT’S are not accommodating to their disability needs. ICT has not incorporated simple tools for disabled individuals on the Net, such as labeled images, Captcha, or font sizes and colors that allow visually impaired individuals to participate online. According to Maria Vicente and Ana Lopez, ICT has not incorporated these necessary materials online because they feel they will lose profit and competition, as well as the fact that they do not see the economic benefits in developing these technologies. ICT’s lack of such technologies for disabled individuals is not only treating disabled individuals unfairly, but is contributing to the issue of digital divide.[45]


Jesse Washington wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle[46] a new digital divide for minorities which is not dictated by access issues but by how minorities tend to choose to use technology. This is an example of digital divide, yet it shows that access is not the only problem. Education also plays a huge role in how useful the internet can be to people of different socio-economic classes. "Today, as mobile technology puts computers in our pockets, Latinos and blacks are more likely than the general population to access the Web by cellular phones, and they use their phones more often to do more things."[43]

A new digital divide is appearing with minorities accessing from cell phones and mobile devices for more social and entertainment purposes. This causes issues as more and more of information services go online including job resources. "Fifty-one percent of Hispanics and 46% of blacks use their phones to access the Internet, compared with 33% of whites, according to a July 2010 Pew poll. Forty-seven percent of Latinos and 41% of blacks use their phones for e-mail, compared with 30% of whites. The figures for using social media like Facebook via phone were 36% for Latinos, 33% for blacks and 19% for whites... A greater percentage of whites than blacks and Latinos still have broadband access at home, but laptop ownership is now about even for all these groups, after black laptop ownership jumped from 34% in 2009 to 51% in 2010, according to Pew."[43]

Data suggests that the digital divide often affects minorities as the result of combinations of multiple economic, psychological, and geographic factors. According to the FCC more than 90% of Native American tribal populations do not own high-speed internet access, with usage rates as low as 5% in certain areas.[47] About 25% of Native Americans live at or below the poverty line,[47] implying that internet usage is unaffordable. Tribal grounds exist far from the urban and suburban areas to which Internet providers offer access. Providing affordable access to remote locations is generally not profitable for the provider.

Mobile technology

The United States mainly use the term digital divide to refer to computers and the internet, but the topic includes much more.[48] It is important to include other technologies like mobile phones in the discussion of the digital divide. Today about 91 percent of Americans have cellphones.[49] That means that only 9 percent of the population does not have a cellphone. Clearly, the number of haves and the have nots cannot be the issue for the digital divide of mobile technologies in America. This shows how the digital divide of mobile phones is different from the digital divide of the internet. The digital divide in mobile technologies is defined by how advanced ones technology is rather than if a person does or does not have the technology.[50] The mobile phone divide is associated with income, marital status, and work status.[51]

[52] Some people argue that smart-phones, phones with email and data packages, will help to bridge the digital divide because they are more affordable than most computers, yet provide some of the key functions of computers. Smart-phones may decrease the divide in some respects, such as easing access to information, provided the users have access to internet, but current functions on smart-phones will not completely help close the gap. In many respects, smart-phones as they stand are not practical, as creating becomes difficult. Smart-phone users may find it difficult to complete common personal computer tasks, such as filling out job applications or writing a paper.

Still the use of wireless devices is on the rise in the United States. In reports as recent as May of 2010 it was reported that 59 percent of all adults access the Internet through wireless connections. This includes the use of a wi-fi card and cell phones for email, instant messaging, and searching the web. In 2010 it was reported that 40 percent of adults use a cell phone to perform at least one of these functions, this is up from 32 percent in 2009. This increase came without a real increase in cell phone ownership as users take advantage of a wider range of use functions on cell phones. [53]

Second Level Digital Divide

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.[54] 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. 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.[55] 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.[54] Many are only nominal content creators through the use of Web 2.0, like 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 what 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.[56] Other reasons include cultural factors often associated with class and socioeconomic status. Users of lower socioconomic 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.[56]

Global digital divide

A map of the global digital divide.

More broadly, the global digital divide describes the Infotech disparities between different regions of the world in relation to generalised rates of social and technological development, (right).

One school of thought holds that, as the internet becomes progressively more sophisticated, the digital divide is growing, that those to whom it is least available are being left behind. Countries with a wide availability of Internet access can advance the economics of that country on a local and global scale. In Western society commerce, and social interaction generally, is almost entirely Internet dependent to a lesser or greater extent. Andy Grove, the former Chair of Intel, said that [...]by the mid-2000s all companies will be Internet companies, or they won’t be companies at all.[57]

In countries where the Internet and other technologies are less/not accessible, uneducated people and societies that are not benefiting from the information age cannot be competitive in the global economy.[58]

Canada: According to an Autumn 2007 Canadian Internet Use Survey, 73% of Canadians aged 16 and older went online in the 12 months prior to the survey, compared to 68% in 2005. In small towns and rural areas, only 65% of residences accessed the Internet, compared to 76% in urban areas. The digital divide still exists between the rich and the poor; 91% of people making more than $91,000/year regularly used the Internet, compared to 47% of people making less than $24,000. This gap has lowered slightly since 2005.[59]
China: China is the largest developing country in the world and therefore saw their Internet population grow by 20% in 2006.[60] However, just over 19% of Chinese people have access to the Internet and the digital divide is growing due to factors such as insufficient infrastructure and high online charges,[61] (see Digital divide in China).
Europe: A European Union study from 2005 conducted in 14 European countries and focused on the issue of digital divide found that within the EU,[62] the digital divide is primarily a matter of age and education. Among the young or educated the proportion of computer or Internet users is much higher than with the older or uneducated. Digital divide is also higher in rural areas. The study found that the presence of children in a household increases the chance of having a computer and Internet access, and that small businesses are catching up with larger enterprises when it comes to Internet access. The study also notes that despite increasing levels of ICT usage in all sections of society, the divide is not being bridged.
United States: According to a July 2008 Pew Internet & American Life report, “55% of adult Americans have broadband Internet connections at home, up from 47% who had high-speed access at home last year at this time [2007]”. This increase of 8% compared to the previous year’s increase of 5% suggests that the digital divide is decreasing, though the findings also show that low-income Americans’ broadband connections decreased by 3%.[63] A 2010 report by the Commerce Department confirmed these findings concluding that the divide continues to decrease, but that almost one-fourth of all households do not have a single internet user.[64]
Africa: Although Africa is far behind the rest of the world in terms of its provision of broadband Internet, new technologies are finally reaching Africa and slowly closing the digital divide. New undersea cables are being installed, which will not only promote better broadband Internet access between African countries and other continents, but will also make prices more affordable. The mobile phone industry is rapidly expanding in Africa as well, growing at twice the global rate. Technological knowledge is also increasing. DotSavvy, a digital organization that launches growth-promoting websites for businesses in Kenya, has even made a CD-ROM training course for HIV/AIDS health care providers. Africa is still not technologically caught up with its global neighbors, but it is improving and gradually closing the digital divide.[65]


One problem associated with the digital divide as applied to a liberal democracy is the ability to participate in the new public space, cyberspace - as in the extreme case, exclusively computer-based democratic participation (deliberation forums, online voting, etc.), could mean that no access meant no vote; there is a risk that some social groups — those without adequate access to or knowledge of IT — will be under-represented (or others over-represented) in the policy formation processes and this would be incompatible with the equality principles of democracy.[66] However, with the growing trend in technological adoption across the world there are new venues for the digital divide debate to be continued, particularly regarding censorship, access, and the new forums where society exercises its digital rights. For many nations the growth and development of government websites as well as the creation of those types of political websites has constituted a great benefit to closing the digital divide. As governments themselves adopt technology, certainly they require users, thus they begin to create the infrastructure needed to access their materials for their citizens. The UN Public Administration Programme, a Division for Public Administration and Development Management and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, released the Global E-Government Survey in 2010 that assessed how government uses ICT “to provide access and inclusion for all.” UNPAP Their study takes into account how citizens benefit “from more advanced e-service delivery, better access to information, more efficient government management and improve interactions with governments” because of the important rise and spread of “public sector…information and communications technology” UNPAP. And as citizens are provided the infrastructure to interact with their governments, public participation, awareness, and even voting can be conducted in a more integrated method. However, some nations restrict access more than others, and many nations limit to a minor extent. Freedom House in a special report states how the rise is media technologies has forced a government response toward access that has been tolerant at times, yet often there are issues of control, regulation, and censorship of blogs, websites, and text messages Freedom House . The rise of new media has led to the more repressive of regimes to create intricate systems of censorship that “limits the content that citizens can access or post on the internet and transmit via mobile phones” that is more subtle Freedom House . However, this often arises in cases of great magnitude, such as in Egypt, when the government limited the access of its people to the Internet. And though not as recent, in China the milk contamination scandal involved censorship and suppression of information, and they are one of the leaders in Internet and information censorship. For example they are using, instead of complete and blanket censorship at all times, “Control 2.0” where they “set the agenda for coverage rather than [trying] to suppress it” OpenNet . Cases such as these could be harming the closing of the gap of the digitial divide as some nations would seek to limit the technological resistance to their regimes that technology would help to grow.

Commercial impacts

The digital divide also exists within commercial sectors. For instance, Japanese publishing companies actively resist the introduction of e-books.[67]

Nonetheless, some companies make efforts to close the digital divide by providing citizens with new job opportunities while making profits for their businesses. The article by Dasgupta et al. describes places such as urban India, Bangladesh, and Senegal that have set up “village phone” or “urban kiosk” programs in which citizens are essentially operators in their rural areas for the larger telephone services. This business model provides people, who are frequently handicapped citizens, with a source of income and results in profits for telephone services. Moreover, according to a 1993 study, the telephone operators are not the only ones that benefit. Local businesses in Karnataka, India expanded substantially due to the external benefits of having telephone technology readily available. These examples show that technology companies are able to make the digital divide smaller, expand small businesses in rural areas, and run a profitable business.[68]

Minghetti et al. shows how the digital divide directly affects the travel industry. Today most tourists use the Internet to research vacation destinations where a wealth of information specific to their trips is readily available. When people do not have access to the Internet, information about choices of accommodations, flights, hotels, and locations becomes limited and difficult to find. Thus, large and small tourism companies have found that the Internet increases their visibility and competitiveness in today’s tourism market. Businesses in low-digital-access areas find it difficult to compete with more developed regions. They are forced to rely on intermediaries, such as travel agents and tour operators, to bring in tourists. With access to the Internet, businesses would be able to communicate directly with potential customers rending the intermediary relationship largely unnecessary.[69]

Overcoming the digital divide

Children encountering a One Laptop per Child computer

Overcoming the digital divide depends on which aspect of the digital divide is investigated, which depends on the desired impact of the employed ICT.[17]

The first step, which includes providing access, meets significant challenges from income restrictions. For example, in Mexico, providing ICT access to the poorest 20% of the society would require a reduction of access prices from an estimated US$ 244 per year (in 2007) to an estimated US$ 35 per year (US$ 3 per month). In Brazil, the poorest 20% of the population has only US$ 9 per year to spend on ICT (US$ 0.75 per month).[70] The economic reality of these income segments in developing countries shows the challenges faced by programs, such as One Laptop per Child. From Latin America it is known that 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.[70] This is the cost ICT people seem to strive for and therefore is generally accepted as a minimum.

In Latin America, the borderline between ICT as a necessity good and ICT as a luxury good is roughly around US$ 10 per person per month, or US$ 120 per year.[70] 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). Given this data, it is unrealistic to expect that people will spend one third of their income on ICT (120/365 = 24/73).

A possible alternative to balance the purchasing power of these segments is to offer direct or indirect subsidies. However, these subsidies could become too high for governments to realistically pay out. For example, in Uruguay, a subsidy would need to be as high as 6.2% of the GDP, which is equivalent to Uruguay’s public spending on education plus health.[70] Unfortunately, many governments in developing countries do not currently possess the resources to provide personalized access to all, even if they opted for the cheapest equipment available.

Nonetheless, projects like One Laptop per Child, Raspberry_Pi and 50x15 are positive steps in reducing the divide, specifically because they foster competition for the provision of cheaper access equipment. They tend to rely heavily upon open standards and free open source software. For example, the OLPC XO-1 is an inexpensive laptop computer intended to be distributed to children in developing countries around the world,[71] to provide them with access to knowledge. Programmer and free software advocate Richard Stallman has highlighted the importance of free software among groups concerned with the digital divide such as the World Summit on the Information Society.[72] Notwithstanding these efforts to provide individual access, shared access, such as through telecentre, desktop virtualization and multiseat configurations are probably the most simple and common way to affordable ICT access as of today.

A project named Moonitin has devised a means to deliver access to the Internet without the requirement for an Internet connection, nor literacy, and for free by means of dialing Hypermostlinks from all of the over 5 billion telephones in the world. The adoption of this technology could lead to the end of the worldwide digital divide regarding basic intelligent communication needs.[73]

Organizations such as Geekcorps, EduVision[74] and Inveneo[75] also help to lessen the divide, often doing so through education systems that draw on information technology. This technology often includes low-cost laptops/subnotebooks, handhelds (e.g. Simputer, E-slate, ...), tablet PCs, Mini-ITX PCs[76] and low-cost WiFi-extending technology such as cantennas and WokFis. Technology material for the classroom can also be made diy to lower expenses, including projectors.[77][78]

In Digital Nation, Anthony G. Wilhelm calls on politicians to develop a national ICT agenda.[15]

One of the main challenge in overcoming the digital divide is to widen the influence of the respective policies from those carried out by telecommunications authority, to the entire public sector. While national Internet agendas are led by national telecom authorities, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and NTIA, the case of Chile shows that the funds managed by the telecom authority represent less than 5% of the total funds spend by the overall government on ICT-related policies and projects, such as carried out the national health department, the education ministry or the finance department.[17] Technology authorities continue to play an important part in this challenge, but, as the statistics from Chile suggest, their role is in reality already much smaller than what is generally assumed. The funds available to fight the digital divide throughout the public sector are a large multiple of those spent by technology and infrastructure authorities alone. Countries do not know which agency manages which kinds of ICT-funds, and do not even make an effort to track these resources. Not even the most developed countries collect this kind of information, but merely focus on the ad-hoc funds spent by the telecom authority. When the digital divide is defined in terms that go beyond mere access, the logical conclusion is to set up a coherent inter-agency policy strategy, which includes health, education and defense authorities. The first task has to be to take inventory of the funds available to the entire public sector. This is generally not done and we do not have a real picture about what is actually done to close the digital divide.

Mehra and others say researchers in the field should try to better understand the lifestyle of the minority or marginalized community,what is meaningful to them, and how they use (or do not use) different forms of the Internet for meeting their objectives,[79] further stating, there is a need for a re-examination of questions based on traditional ways of looking at people, their social dynamics, and their interactions with technology.[79]

Researchers, however,still tend to set a ‘method’ for studying the impact of Internet use. Assuming a golden rule for application that will function in all situations will not work.[80] One strategy is to transfer goal-setting, decision making, and choice-determining processes into the hands of the disadvantaged users in order that they ‘fit’ Internet into their daily lives in ways that they themselves consider to be meaningful.[81] - - International cooperation between governments is increasing, aimed at reducing the divide, such as a recent agreement between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Egyptian government. It's a sign of progress that such attempts at bridging the digital divide are seriously being made.[82]

Other participants in similar endeavors include the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development and the Digital Alliance Foundation.[83][84]

U.N. meeting on bridging the divide

The United Nations is aiming to raise awareness of the divide by way of the World Information Society Day which takes place yearly on May 17.[85] It also set up the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Task Force in November 2001.[86]

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the IMARA organization (from Swahili word for "power") sponsors a variety of outreach programs which bridge the 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, installed and donated 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.[87][88][89]

Some cities in the world have started programs to bridge the 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[90] 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. In 2010, the City of Boston received a major grant from the government to provide internet access and training to underserved populations including parents, children, youth, and the elderly.[91]

Political measures within the United States have been made in the attempt to lessen the digital divide. In 2009, Congresswoman Doris Matsui introduced the Broadband Affordability Act, which calls for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to install a program that allows low-income citizens to get access to more affordable broadband Internet service. More accessibility to broadband service would help close the digital divide between high-income and low-income households. The Broadband Affordability Act models the FCC's Lifeline Assistance program, which offers basic telephone service to low-income households at just, affordable, and reasonable rates. The Act would expand the program to offer discounted internet service to lower-income consumers living in urban and rural areas.[92] The legislation was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on September 24, 2009, and is awaiting further action.[93]

In the United States, minority ethnic groups have higher adoption rates for mobile communications devices than white Americans, to some degree leapfrogging over more expensive fixed-line Internet and PCs.[94] Access to traditional PC and Internet access is still an issue, however,[citation needed] and organizations such as Per scholas seek to address this gap by helping members of underserved communities gain computer and internet access and training.[95]

Another possible solution that civilians are using in an attempt to overcome the digital divide is making more “hotspot”[96] zones where people can access free Wi-Fi. Various places including San Francisco (headed by Mayor Gavin Newsom) and North Carolina are implementing this solution in an attempt to bridge the gap. This solution sounds appealing as “ 55% of American adults connect to the internet wirelessly, either through a Wi-Fi or WiMax connection via their laptops or through their handheld device like a smart phone.”[97] However, some argue that this solution is ignoring an entire population of people. The underprivileged population that this hotspot policy is trying to help are most likely the ones who have a lower socio-economic background. Although this may help some people who are of a lower socio economic background, this solution implies that everyone owns a laptop. Many disadvantaged students who have no Internet access do not own computers so the Wi-Fi is pointless. The Wi-Fi is most likely only helping a small percentage of civilians that can afford a laptop but cannot afford high quality Internet access. Both those who argue for implanting more hotspots and those who say hotspots are pointless have valid points.

Solutions can start to be reached when civilians are aware of the digital divide as it is widening the gap between the upper and lower classes. It is widening the gap between the classes because the wealthy will continuously use their skills and technology to further their businesses while the underprivileged will continue to fall behind. The digital divide is widening the gap because people around the world are applying, utilizing and implementing technology more and more into their daily lives as “electronic mail is quickly becoming as essential to full participation in society as having a telephone.”[98]

Technology may not be a detrimental invention, however. Technology is not the cause of the digital divide, rather the cause of the digital divide is humans who are ignoring an entire population of people. If the wealthy (those with a higher socioeconomic status) use technology to both further their own research and businesses and help the underprivileged, then perhaps the gap between these two classes will lessen.

Many new users need to overcome the psychological effects of the digital divide. The digital divide brings about much insecurity among people who are not familiar with today’s technological advancements.[99] It creates a divide in the psychology of people who have a lack of confidence with new technology and digital devices, and those who do not. Their perception is that digital devices are too complicated and they are uncertain or nervous about learning how to use them and get started.[100] There is a great amount of division between the old and young Americans, usually because of their access to the digital devices and Internet. People who are uncertain, uncomfortable, and have a skewed perception towards computers, the Internet, and other recent technologies ultimately brings about a weak self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is term meaning one’s personal ability to perform a task and feel confident about it. The people in society who are less comfortable using technologies such as the Internet become stressed about their lack of skills, lowering their self-efficacy.[100] Computers and other devices require a significant amount of patience and confidence. Many new users have the patience but it is overruled by their lack of confidence, a trait that people on the other side of the digital divide do in fact have.


Each year, Certiport (which focuses on teaching digital literacy) awards the Champions of Digital Literacy award to leaders, world wide, who have helped to close the digital divide in their native countries.[101]

Other awards are given to those making an effort to bridge the digital divide. The World Summit Award (WSA) is associated with the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). WSA focuses on cultural diversity and its progression into a digitalized and accessible global form. 40 projects receive the WSA each year for their work in one of eight categories: e-Learning, e-Culture, e-Science, e-Government, e-Health, e-Business, e-Entertainment, and e-Inclusion. WSA inspired the formation of a nationally focused award. Delhi's Digital Empowerment Foundation and WSA partnered with Planet Finance India to establish the Manthan Award, which recognizes India's best e-Content practices. The Manthan Award is meant to motivate India to generate more e-Content by recognizing the practices that are working to create and share information throughout India's developing society.[102]


The existence of a digital divide is not universally recognized. Compaine (2001) argues it is a perceived gap. Technology gaps are relatively transient; hence the digital divide should soon disappear in any case. The knowledge of computers will become less important as they become easier to use. In the future people will not need high-tech skills to access the Internet and participate in e-commerce or e-democracy. Thus Compaine argues that a digital divide is not the issue to expend substantial amounts of funds or political capital.[4] Graham (2011) has similarly argued that "attaining any semblance of virtual co-presence in order to achieve economic, social, and political goals involves the circumvention of not only the material divides (i.e. the fact that there is a lack of co-presence between people and information), but also the myriad divides that obstruct communication within the networks of the Internet."[103]

Compaine suggests that the government should let new technologies develop on their own so that their prices will be set naturally. It can be detrimental for the government to step in and set prices on new technologies too soon because it is almost impossible to tell how long one will stay on the market. Instead of making sure that everyone can afford a new technology, the government should wait to see if it will be replaced by something better and more cost effective. Compaine cites the telephone and color television as examples of this point. If the government had prematurely stepped in and made telegraphs and the first color television model readily available to the general public, the later and more successful models may have had more trouble being implemented. Compaine’s findings suggest that it takes time before new technologies are determined “necessary,” and the government should not be too eager to give people access to technologies and step in before they are needed.[104]

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