Digital divide is sometimes referred to as digital split (Internet World Stats). Digital divide is used to describe the gap that exists between persons, households, enterprises as well as geographical areas (countries) at various social and economical levels taking into consideration their respective opportunities to accessing information and communication technology services. Additionally, it describes the gap between the respective aforementioned parties in their internet usage for various activities. The digital split is a resourceful measure of the differences existing among countries and also within a particular society. The internet has come with many opportunities for both individuals and businesses. However, due to this digital divide, not all individuals and businesses have fully taken advantages brought about by the internet. This variation is significant, especially between the developed and developing countries. In most cases, the people’s ease of access to fundamental telecommunications services and tools is given preference, over the internet access and usage, when considering digital divide among the people and countries. This is because, more often than not, it is widely available. This paper analyses where digital occurs, why it occurs, how it is measured, its effects and how it can be tackled (OECD, 2001).
Causes of Digital Divide
Keniston and Kumar suggested that there are four types of digital divides (2003). Although technology and statistics have vastly changed between 2003 and 2012, the pattern can be argued to be similar. This can be attributed to the fact that there are still countries that are developing and that the divide between social levels still exists. This paper will use Keniston’s and Kumar’s findings.
The first digital divide, as suggested by the duo, is one that exists within a country (regardless of the fact that it is developed or not). It arises between those sections of the population that are wealthy, well educated and powerful and those sections that are otherwise. In the United States, for instance, the income and education levels of individuals distinguish those who possess computers and those that don’t. It also distinguishes the individuals that can access the internet from those that cannot. Around the turn of the millennium, it was estimated that the households with an average income of more than $75,000 were almost twenty times likely to access the internet than those who had a relatively low income. To put it more bluntly, more than three quarters of the wealthy population had immediate access to the internet. On the other hand, only 5 % of the total poor population had access to the internet. Additionally, wealthy households were almost ten times more likely to own a computer as compared to the relatively poor households. 69 % of persons with four or more years of university education owned computers. Of this educated group, 49 % of them had access to the internet. On the other hand, only 8 % of those with six years or less educational level owned a computer. This figure falls to 3% when considering internet access (Keniston & Kumar, 2003).
The figures shown above were similar to figures posted in Australia and India. The same scenario can be argued to represent many other countries. This is due to the fact that economical divides still occur in almost all societies of the world. Although the research was conducted some time ago, the pattern can be argued to be similar to the situation today. However, the numbers are most likely to be higher due to the fact that many people can now acquire college education (Keniston & Kumar, 2003).
The second digital divide is caused by linguistic and cultural differences. In most cases, and in most countries, this difference originates from those that are able to speak English (or popular international languages) and those that do not. In the United States, almost all Americans speak fluent English. However, the digital divide exists between the different ethnic communities. Keniston and Kumar pointed out that computer ownership varies considerably; 55% for Asian Americans, 52% for white Americans, 25% for Latin American and 23% for black Americans. Internet usage shows a similar pattern (2003).
More than 80% of all the websites are in English, while the rest are in the popular languages; German, Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese. Additionally, very few software are in a language other than English. This simply means that individuals who can’t speak English are at a disadvantage. Most of them are barred from enjoying the full benefits of ICT and the internet (Keniston & Kumar, 2003).
The third digital divide arises from the difference in the wealth of nations. In countries such as the US, the UK, Germany, Finland and the developed countries, telephone connectivity, as of 2003, was more than 90%. Computer ownership and internet usage was more than 50%. In the relatively poor nations, constituting a large percentage of the total population, telephone connectivity was less than 3%, while computer ownership and internet usage was less than 2% (Keniston & Kumar, 2003). Although the situation has vastly improved, the pattern is similar. It is estimated that 1 in 1000 people in the developing nations has access to a computer, while almost 600 in 1000 people in the developed world can access a computer (BTDD).
The last cause of digital divide is as a result of an increasingly elite section of the society who have benefitted massively from ICT innovations. Individuals that are technologically savvy have managed to put their brilliant innovations into practice, earning a lot of income in the process. For instance, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Mark Cuban have amassed so much wealth due to their brilliant ICT inventions. Keniston and Kumar branded, such elite individuals ‘digerati’ (2003).
Measuring Digital Divide
Digital divide is a dynamic concept, always changing from year to year and region to region. Additionally, there are other factors, such as gender imparity in many parts of the world, age differences, type of regime in a country and religion that possibly lead individuals not to have access to an ICT facility and the internet. However, the main component of measuring digital divide is by analyzing the penetration levels: those that have access to ICT infrastructure to those that do not among countries and within a country (WISR, 2007).
The general trend of ICT development in the world is an increasing curve. This rise has especially been steep in the developing countries. In overall, more than half of the total world population has a mobile phone. However, while mobile telephone penetration is over 100% in Europe by 2007, only a quarter and a third of Africans and Asians have mobile phones. In Africa, fixed line penetration is very low, at 3%. ITU attributes this fact to the reason why fixed broadband connectivity in Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world.
By the year 2010, a third of the world was actively using the internet as compared to only 1 billion five years earlier (Euromonitor, 2011). This simply means that the digital divide is being narrowed with time. The charts below show the commonest indicators of digital divide, adopted from ITU.