Bridging the Digital Divides

The MacBride Commission Report titled “Many Voices One World” sponsored by UNESCO found that a majority of modern communication problems exist between the global North and South as a result of an imbalance in access to telecommunication technologies and as a result, an imbalance of media (often favoring the North) which then impacts how we perceive the information we have access to. 

In response, the overarching goal of telecommunications policy is to ensure universal service and equal access to affordable telephone service in all communities as well as to ensure all communities are being reached with access to broadband for more and better communication. With digital divides, the issue is not just access to these technologies but also if there is access to broadband (high speed and quality) or to mobile access or just within the home, additional markers of truly equal access. The digital divide is defined by the regional, age, gender, and racial/ethnic divides in access to telecommunication technology. In addition, the divide includes access to broadband vs. narrowband, the knowledge divide regarding ICTs as well as a result of a lack of them, and a skill divide surrounding digital technologies.

This is alarming in that as shown through WSIS and its ancestor-documents, access to good ICTs is crucial for development, especially regarding the increase in access to information that they provide, not just at an economic level but at a social and political level as well. For example, in tying back to education, children with access and the ability to use computers and broadband Internet have an automatic increase in knowledge and accessibility to the world. In response, the main steps that can be taken are training of teachers on how to be able to teach students to use technology while also recognizing that children have skills that they are able to teach their teachers, using technology to build capacity. In an increasingly globalized world and a knowledge-based economy, as UNESCO has worked towards, it is crucial that we level the playing field by closing the digital divide.

Finally, an interesting aspect of closing the digital divide involves learning how to utilize cyberinfrastucture to its fullest potential. When we are able to fully understand and utilize the technology we have access to, we have the opportunity to work in global virtual teams across distance, time zones, and cultures. For inclusive sustainable development, this presents a wealth of opportunities from increased information on disabilities for diagnosis, treatment or coping, to increased collaboration among persons with disabilities as a stakeholder group, allowing for a more cohesive and beneficial representation at UN conferences and as a result, in official documents. As we continue to bridge the divide in a world where our lives are so closely intertwined with the digital, the possibilities are endless and exciting for development and beyond.