Digital divide(s) refers to the differences in access to Information and Communication Technologies between developed and developing countries. The term digital divide can also refer to a number of other differences in access to Information and Communication Technologies between different groups such as the rich and poor, and urban and rural communities. Many factors separate these groups, including access to quality Information and Communication Technologies (ITCs). These ITCs can take many forms, and range from access to telephone communications, to access to quality Internet connections. Within the United Nations, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and UNESCO have become the leading voices on bridging the many digital divides confronting our world. Due to the involvement of UNESCO, the portfolio of issues WSIS was set to address expanded significantly from network connectivity and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to include issues at the intersection of culture and technology, including human rights.
The twin summits in Geneva and Tunis that truly began the WSIS process attracted huge involvement from governments, the private sector, and civil society. The WSIS process since the summit in Geneva has had a significant focus on development as it relates to information technology. Many of the “Action Lines” agreed to at the Geneva Summit place emphasis on the role that information technology plays in e-commerce, access to information, and capacity building of every kind. WSIS’s ongoing work, and the grand challenge it is trying to address, is closely related to the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, WSIS has Action Lines aimed at deploying information technology to improve the environment and environmental governance, which line up with activities under SDG 13 for Climate Change, SDG 14 for Life below Water, and SDG 15 for Life on Land. Addressing digital divides in all their forms have therefore been folded into the overall sustainable development agenda toward which the world is working. WSIS’s multistakeholder approach to decision-making and development also seems well positioned to incorporate the necessary voices to have effective development programs.