Falling through the Net

The 1985 Maintland Report “The Missing Link” pointed out disparity in access to telephone in developed and developing country. The report emphasized importance of telecommunication in development and added a dimension to global inequality. Besides inequality at a global level, there is also domestic inequality in access to telecommunication, even in developed countries. “Falling Through the Net” is a survey that presents unequal access to the Internet in rural and urban areas of the United States. From “The Missing Link” to “Falling Through the Net,” we can observe two trends in discussion on role of telecommunication. One is the form of telecommunication has evolved from landline telephone to the Internet. The other trend is instead of limiting comparison at a global level, there is also examination within a country. But literature on access to telecommunication is still mainly focusing on economic development and regional disparity. In fact, there are certain social groups that are experiencing more difficulties than others, such as elderly persons, women, and persons with disabilities. Therefore, I see such exclusion as a new way to define of “falling through the net.”

Access to telecommunication is crucial to empowerment of vulnerable members of society. Internet and technology tools and help persons with disabilities overcome physical barriers. Virtual meeting platforms, online learning, and online business can all help persons with disabilities enhance their economic and political status. With access to the Internet, persons with disabilities can better participate in global governance. This participation will then lead to more inclusive policy-making on a global scale. The World Summit on the Information Society organized by International Telecommunication Union encourages multistakeholder global governance. As a summit that focuses on spread of Internet and bridging the digital divide, inclusion of persons with disabilities will not only better fulfill its mission but also improve such participation for other global governance platforms.

It is true that telecommunication, as an element contributing to development, is carrying more and more value in both policy making and in practice. Exciting technology advancements in this field help accelerate development and are enjoyed and welcomed by many. But it’s important to keep in mind that there are still members of society that are falling through the net. Only by including those who are traditionally marginalized, such as persons with disabilities, can we truly bridge the digital divide. In doing so, they can also have a greater say in policy making in other areas of development.

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