Digital Divides

The Macbride Commission report, Many Voices One World discusses systems of communication and their effectiveness. Networks of communication affect societal functions in terms of information, socialization, motivation and achieving collective aims, debate and discussion, education and the transmission of knowledge, cultural promotion, entertainment and integration of all persons groups and nations, facilitating mutual understanding. When there are divides in access to such systems of communication unequal development persists. In today’s world, communication has often become an exchange between unequal partners, allowing the predominance of the more powerful, the richer and the better equipped.

An estimated 1.2 billion people – 17% of the global population – did not have access to electricity in 2013, which is 84 million fewer than in the previous year. Many more suffer from a supply of electricity  that is inconsistent and of inferior quality. More than 95% of those living without electricity are in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and they are predominantly in rural areas. Progress in providing electrification in urban areas has outpaced that in rural areas two to one since 2000. Broadband Internet continues to fail to reach billions of people living in the global south, according to a new United Nations report that offers country-by-country data on the state of access around the globe. The State of Broadband, produced by the UN Broadband Commission reveals that 57 per cent of the world’s people remain offline.

What is alarming is the impact of such divides, which is not limited to a country’s economic development. In many ways the social impact of not having access to digital forms of communication can be seen to have just as lasting and devastating effects on a society. The fact that media presence is so heavily concentrated in the global north, and that populations of developing countries have little opportunity to shape their own narrative on the global stage or highlight key issues facing their countries being overlooked by mainstream media. Their lack of access prevents the diffusion of knowledge and unique contributions that these countries citizens have to offer, that could help to inform not only global development initiatives, but also improve reporting and implementation in countries which can benefit from it most. Frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the WSIS + 10 Outcome Document recognize the importance of striving to bridge the digital divide, but they are just the start. The digital divide requires solutions for developing countries by  developing countries to ensure equal access for all.