Digital Divide(s)

The concept of a “Digital Divide” refers to the ever-growing gulf between those who have access to the internet and internet outlets, such as computers, and those who are unable to achieve them. This is such an important concept due to the fact that access to telecommunication is vital within the field of development, especially within the disabled persons communities as it allows the surpassing of their physical hindrances. The origins of the concept of a digital divide can be traced back very far. In the 1985 Maintland Report titled “The Missing Link”, the gargantuan imbalance in telephone access between developed and developing countries was drawn upon, receiving intense international attention. Not only did the report discuss global telecommunication inequality, but it also brought it to a deeper level by emphasizing the rifts that exist domestically. This report was one of the stepping stones towards creating transparency in regards to the digital divide on a global and domestic scale, noting that there are still people in modern times that live completely isolated from the rest of the world due to their inability to access to ICTs. The report discusses the fact that a lot of the companies that hold the responsibility of installing this kind of technological infrastructure within these communities is a waste of time because they are too marginalized to truly benefit from it. Ten years later, a survey of the “have nots” within rural and urban America was published titled “Falling Through the Net”. The combination of the Maintland Report and “Falling Through the Net” opens up a very important dialogue that continues to be significant today; with the transformation of technology and the intensified need for access comes the paralleled need to extend access to these ICTs to the rest of the world that is considered “isolated” due to their lack of telecommunications abilities. Without this, global development cannot be achieved fully.

A term that properly sums up the digital divide is the entitlement theory, a term that was coined by Amartya Sen in his paper “Exchange Entitlements”. In this paper, Sen discusses the cause of famines and how they are not perpetuated by an overall lack of food, but rather a lack of access to food. This can and should be compared to ICTs, as it is not a problem of quantity that is being provided to these communities, but rather access to them in the first place. Those living in rural villages and towns receive a disproportionate amount of access to these ICTs in comparison to those living in populous urban communities.

Branching from these very important concepts emerges a discussion on the need for increased access. In the United States alone, the amount of online learning and business platforms has increased substantially, allowing persons with disabilities to enhance their status throughout the country. As there is a heightened participation of these groups of people within the political and economic platform throughout countries such as the United States, there will be a heightened amount of inclusive policy-making that will spread like wildfire across the globe. For instance, in 2003 and 2005 the World Summit on the Information Society encouraged global governance that focuses on bridging the digital divide.

A lot can be done to shrink these digital divides, both on a domestic level and a global level. Sen mentions a plethora of conditions that must be met in order to obtain a proper balance of public and private access to ICTs, such as democratic governments that allow the highest level of efficiency, perfect competition in the market, and awareness of the importance of bridging this digital divide. Although there are a lot of parameters that must be met and a lot of limitations in regards to solutions, in today’s society there is no room for exclusivity. Because ICTs have become such an essential part of life, it is of the utmost importance that all members of the global population receive adequate access to these necessary forms of communication and information sharing.