Digital Divide(s)

With the revelation of the “missing link” by the Maitland Commission Report, immense concern arose for the staggering differences in access to telecommunications across the United States. This was intensified with the creation of the internet and faster, easier, global communication possibilities. In the late 1990s, the NTIA (National Telecommunications & Information Administration) determined there was a significant division between Americans that use the internet, the “haves,” and those that do not, the “have nots” (“Falling through the Net”). This dichotomy is referred to as the  “digital divide,” but it is not as clear a division between two groups as it may sound. There are evident divides between rural and urban areas, young and old age groups, certain racial and ethnic groups, and variances among education and income level. There are also many different ways in which people may be disadvantaged or unable to participate in the digital world. This can include differences in quality of digital connections and devices, the availability of technical assistance and training, and/or subscription-based content. Currently, the most widely discussed issue within the “digital divide” is the availability of quality access at an affordable cost (“Falling through the Net”). The policy driven programs of the NTIA emphasize this need to expand broadband Internet access and adoption in the United States. This also entails ensuring that the Internet maintains and improves its capabilities for continued innovation and economic growth. Increasing the spectrum of internet users is vital step in addressing and improving many of the nation’s most urgent needs, including education, public safety, and health care. The NTIA also represents the Executive Branch in international telecommunications and information policy activities which is important because the digital divide is not just a domestic issue. Now, it is also increasingly evident that huge  populations all over the world have been excluded from this ever-growing technological era due to inadequate resources and education and that the “digital divide” is actually widening (“Falling through the Net”). This is in part because some areas or countries are substantially more equipped to acquire and benefit from internet use than other developing places, and specific groups within populations require but are deprived of necessary assistance within the digital world.  Consequently, bridging the gap of the “digital divide” is a crucial component of achieving inclusive sustainable development and would help create greater economic equality, social mobility, informational capabilities,  and development as defined by Amartya Sen.