The Digital Divide(s)

These days it is difficult to imagine our world without the Internet. Since the invention of the Internet in 1989, Internet usage has increased tenfold. The Internet is now an integral part of everyday life for many individuals. While it may seem that a majority of the world has access to the Internet, this is far from the truth. For example, when conducting research for my capstone project, I discovered that out of Timor-Leste’s 1.2 million people population, a mere 14,030 individuals have access to the Internet from their homes.

While information and communications technologies (ICTs) grow rapidly, large portions of society remain largely disconnected from the Internet, thus perpetuating the digital divide. The digital divide refers to the difference in individuals who have access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) and those who do not. The digital divide describes the patterns of unequal access to information technology based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, geography, and broadband and bandwith access. The various types of digital divides have large implications in the movement toward inclusive sustainable development.

The MacBride Commission report, “Many Voices, One World,” published in 1980, under UNESCO, highlighted the imbalances between developed and developing countries in respect to information capacities, particularly relating to the media. As a result of its’ findings, UNESCO, promoted the establishment of a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) to address imbalances of the media and the unequal access to information and communication.

In “Falling through the Net, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), discovered a significant digital divide among the “haves” and the “have nots” in the United States. According to “Falling through the Net”, “Minorities, low-income persons, the less educated, and children of single-parent households, particularly when they reside in rural areas or central cities, are among the groups that lack access to information resources” in the United States. Despite the increasing prevalence of ICT’s in the United States, large disparities still exist.

The MacBride Report “Many Voices, One World,” and “Falling through the Net” emphasize the importance of equal access to ICTs. However, in bridging this gap, emphasis must not solely be placed on access to Internet, but on the capabilities of Internet access. As we spoke about in class, important considerations must include – how much information can flow through the pipe, is there access to broadband Internet, is there access to broadband remotely, and how much bandwith is available. The movement toward bridging the gap must not only focus on providing the infrastructure, but focusing on what can be done with the infrastructure provided.

In order to achieve inclusive sustainable development, it is essential that universal service of information and communications technologies be achieved. The success in achieving universal service of ICTs is dependent on innovation, investment, and multistakeholderism. For example, incentivizing the private sector to get involved in bridging the digital divide is highly important. Encouraging competition and investing resources is also vital to bridging the digital divide.