Information and communication technology, ICT, plays a key role in the economic and social development of a nation. The advancement of ICTs eases the accessibility of the Web. The internet is a source of information and knowledge, which has a direct impact on the welfare of a country (Trappel, 2019). Therefore, inequality in ICT distribution may result in uneven economic statuses among societies. Digital divide is a term that was coined in the 1990s to define the gap between people attributed to their ability and inability to access the internet (Alfonso, 2016). The concept of digital divide implies the separation between individuals who frequently access ICTs and those who do not. The extent of this divide is influenced by factors such as income, age, education status, and geographic location. The paper seeks to assess the digital divide in the context of social disparities and how it can be redressed. Digital divide plays a major role in the socioeconomic inequalities experienced in the world today.
State of Internet Access in Different Regions of the World
Internet access is deemed crucial in bridging the social gap that exists among societies. Efforts to ensure equal distribution of ICTs among societies began in the 1990s. Such plans were aimed at ensuring that information is disseminated, accessed, and controlled with democracy (Trappel, 2019). Although the global internet usage in the year 2013 was 676 percent higher than that in the 2000s, only 39 percent of the population in the world could access the Web by that year (Krieken et al., 2016). The number of people accessing the internet in Africa had increased by 5219 percent by the year 2013. According to Krieken et al. (2016), about 240 million out of the approximated 1.12 billion people in Africa surfed the Webby that year. Such a figure represented only 21.3 percent of the population in this continent. In regions such as North America, Europe and Asia, 84.9, 68.6 and 31.7 percent of their respective populations could surf the Web by that time (Krieken et al., 2016). Such findings indicate that there is significant gap in internet usage despite the increasing numbers of internet users.
Relationship between Social Inequality and Internet Access
There exists a direct correlation between access to the internet and the social and economic statuses of people. Populations of lower statuses have a lower chance of being connected to the Web than those of higher socio-economic classes (Alfonso, 2016). The exclusion of people from online networking is evident in the poverty-stricken regions of the world, including most parts of Africa and some sections of Asia (Ragnedda, 2019). Digital divide is a global issue existing in both developed and developing countries, although it is highly pronounced in underdeveloped ones. Some cities in developed nations that experience similar socioeconomic conditions as Kamagasaki in Japan, in which the underclass group dominates, are excluded from the Web (Krieken, 2016). These areas can be perceived as black holes in these wealthy nations, which depict the level of social inequality in these countries today. The consequence of this social disparity to the underclass populations is the exploitation in places of work, shortened life expectancy, and deteriorated health.
The impact of the digital divide is also felt in the business world as depicted by the resulting state of humanity. For instance, findings show that there are relentless opportunities for those inside the networks (Lester, 2021). However, those outside these networks find it increasingly difficult to survive. It thus implies that the lack of technological infrastructure and knowledge to surf the Web is a social disadvantage in the context of the network society (Lester, 2021). It portrays social inequality when aligned with other factors such as employment, education, ethnicity, and gender.
ICT plays a major role in the global economy in the present world as it influences economic productivity and social power. Krieken (2016) considers people who cannot access the internet socially and economically disadvantaged. It is because they lack the skills to acquire valuable information for their survival in the economic and social networks. According to Krieken (2016), 64.4 and 88.1 percent of UK residents with secondary school and university qualifications, respectively access the internet. Such figures can be compared with 61 and 87.1 percent in the U.S. and 66.3 and 92.2 percent in Singapore, respectively (Krieken, 2016). Individuals whose academic qualifications are below secondary education are considered unlikely to surf the Web. Therefore, groups that are excluded from the ICT networks are economically and socially incapacitated.
Since the internet is a source of information, the inability of these groups to access it is likely to worsen their socioeconomic statuses. It makes it difficult to “access the technological tools and computing equipment used in the production and circulation of information” (Krieken, 2016). For instance, Britain implemented a policy to support online access points to help the socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. Under this policy, the British government availed these points in public places such as libraries and kiosks, and constructed internet cafes that targeted this population (Hernandez & Roberts, 2018). However, individuals who already access the internet in their homes occupy most of these spaces (Hernandez & Roberts, 2018). Therefore, those inside the network benefit more from these facilities than those who are not connected.
As well, some information relevant to people’s lives remains inaccessible to those outside the network. Research shows that only the highly technologically and digitally literate populations produce and control contents that have direct relevance to life experiences and cultures. The marginalized groups hardly benefit from such information that is of great importance in their lives (Hernandez & Roberts, 2018). Consequently, this worsens their disenfranchised state, especially at the level of cultural experience.
Measures that Might Redress the Digital Divide
Schools and learning institutions can reduce the digital divide by adjusting resources and assignments into downloadable forms. Using internal drives such as computers, laptops or flash-based memories people can download all necessary or relevant information and access it later when not connected to the internet (Shweta, 2017). Moreover, schools can expand internet access in study halls, libraries, and cafeterias throughout the day to ensure that a high percentage of scholars without internet connectivity at home have continuous access during the day (Domínguez, 2019). Cellular wireless connectivity has also been added to school buses by some school districts serving vast rural populations. As a result, the chances of students accessing online materials as they ride are increased.
As well, working with the communities that offer free internet access can help reduce this gap. For instance, businesses like restaurants and coffee shops regularly offer free wireless networks to customers, and people without internet connectivity can utilize such services (Domínguez, 2019). Additionally, some nonprofit organizations are collaborating with internet providers to make telecommunication connectivity available to families at a reduced price. As well, there is the Connect2Compete program, which is offered by a nonprofit organization with 49 active states in America, which has the mission to eradicate the digital divide (Steele, 2018). The organization provides free digital literacy courses and high-speed, low-cost internet service to all unconnected Americans.
Improving the relevance of online content is necessary to improve the numbers surfing the Web. Findings show that persons in most developing countries cannot find online services and content in their native language (Steele, 2018). They also lack essential prerequisite training to comprehend a lot of virtual content. Thus, local applications and content need to be established in native languages that the local populace can easily understand to encourage internet adoption in such places. As well, issues such as privacy infringement that tends to scare away any potential user need to be solved by formulating policy frameworks that protect users’ data and activities.
In addition, there is a need to develop internet infrastructures to enhance the online transmission of data worldwide. In most third world nations, poor and lack of proper internet infrastructure lead to a reduced internet connection (Ben, 2017). Commencement of broadband internet, which is better than the outmoded dial-up connection has worsened internet access issue in rural areas (Steele, 2018). The expensive systems and technologies of the broadband internet make it uneconomical to establish in such areas. Focusing on satellite broadband technologies, earth-orbiting balloons, and drones can greatly reduce the digital gap in rural environments, as they are efficient and cost-effective.
In summation, digital divide results in uneven economic statuses among societies due to ICT’s contribution to economic and social developments. Those outside the network are at lower socioeconomic classes than those inside it. As a result, ICT distribution influences economic productivity and social power. There is a need to redress this issue of digital divide to ensure a democratic production, dissemination and access of information through the internet.
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