ICTs and the Digital Divide

We live in an increasingly digital world. Access to technology allows people to apply for online jobs, keep up with current news, research information, connect with others, and participate in online classes. However, unequal access to information communication technologies (ICTs) has become one of the greatest economic and civil rights issues around the world (Irving). Unequal access to ICTs puts people behind the starting line in our increasingly digitally dependant world. While people with access to ICTs have a much greater advantage in advancing their education and career positions, people without access to ICTs face many more obstacles in accessing those same exact opportunities. Many job applications, college applications, or scholarship applications can only be found online.

For example, a friend of mine works at an organization that provides opportunities for high school students abroad to do an exchange in the United States. There was one student, Leonardo, who was almost unable to apply for the opportunity because he did not have a digital device or Internet access at home. Each day that he was working on the application, Leonardo had to travel 45 minutes to a university library in his town to access a computer. The day that he was planning on submitting the application, the university library was closed. Although Leonardo had missed the deadline, the organization luckily granted him an extension because he was not able to easily access the technology he needed to apply. Leonardo was selected as one of only 13 finalists in a pool of 280 total applicants. He just completed his exchange in the United States yesterday, but was almost not able to attend due to his inability to easily access the necessary technology to apply.

The term to describe the inequality between populations with and without access to ICTs is called the “digital divide” (Irving). The digital divide disproportionately affects minorities, low-income persons, persons with less education, and populations in rural areas – and the gap is widening quickly (Irving). For example, persons with a college degree are eight times more likely to have a computer at home and sixteen times more likely to have Internet access than persons with an elementary school education (Irving). A low-income White family is three times more likely to have Internet access than a comparable low-income Black family, and four times more likely than a comparable low-income Hispanic family (Irving). A high-income family in an urban area is over twenty times more likely to have Internet access than a low-income family in a rural area (Irving).

At the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the International Telecommunication Union Union (ITU) connected the WSIS Action Lines with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goal was to harness the potential of ICTs to achieve the SDGs (WSIS-SDG Matrix). For example, SDG 1 is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” and WSIS Action Line 1 is “the role of governments and all stakeholders in the promotion of ICTs for development” (WSIS-SDG Matrix). One of the resulting rationales is “Increased Internet use can reduce poverty and create jobs through increased efficiency and transparency in government, the growing number of broadband connections and household Internet penetration” (WSIS-SDG Matrix). Equal access to ICTs is absolutely crucial in promoting equality in our increasingly digitally dependent world. We must work to break down the ever-increasing “digital divide” that disproportionately places many behind the starting line.