Digital Divides

In 1980 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published “Many Voices One World” – known as the MacBride report written by the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems. In short, this report aimed to analyze communication problems modern societies face and offer suggestions on how these problems could be diminished to further peace and human development. The report highlighted main functions of communication (p. 18):

    1. Spreading information
    2. Helping people be effective members of society
    3. Fostering individual and community activities
    4. Promoting debate and discussion,
    5. Fostering intellectual development
    6. Disseminating cultural and artistic products
    7. Entertainment
    8. Ensuring all persons, groups, and national have access to vital information

In relation to sustainable development, function 8 – ensuring equal access to information – is especially important. As the MacBride report suggests, there is a rapidly growing global inequality between those who have access to technology and communication systems and those who do not. This often falls long lines between the global north and global south. As Amanda pointed out in her post, in 2013 a staggering 1.2 billion people did not have access to electricity with 95% of those without electricity living in Saharan Africa and Asia. Amanda also pointed out that, according to the UN Broadband Commission, 57% of the world’s population does not have steady access to the internet.

On a domestic level in the United States, these inequalities exist as well. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) report “Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide,” minority and rural poor populations have less access to the internet than the white and urban affluent population. For example according to the NTIA, urban households with an annual income over $75,000 are 20 times more likely to have access to the internet than rural households and 9 times for likely to have a computer at home (Irving, Chart 1-2). In addition, those who identify as white are more likely to have access to the internet from home than those who identify as Black or HIspanic, regardless of where they live. In sum, NTIA’s report highlights the digital divide in America showing that, even though over time people are becoming more connected, minority groups, those with lower incomes, and rural populations are still lagging far behind.

As our in-class discussion revealed, an inclusive development strategy must incorporate solutions to this digital divide – on both the global and domestic level. This digital divide permeates every asset of society and acts as a hinderance for minority and disenfranchised groups. On the other hand, if closing the digital gap is at the forefront of development, technology can serve as a leveling factor for those groups. For example, with phone service and internet access, a farmer in a remote location can gain access to the market price of produce ensuring they’re making the most profit possible – elevating themselves economically in the long run. In addition, via the internet and other technological advances, persons with disabilities (PWD) may be able to gain an education and participate in society in ways they were previously excluded from. In sum, the digital divide between the technology haves and have nots is a crucial facet of development that is not only irresponsible but detrimental to overlook and must be incorporated into all strategies moving forward.