In just some twenty five to thirty years after the origin of the Internet we found ourselves, in the United States and around the world, with a tremendous discrepancy between the digital haves and the digital have nots. This discrepancy has come to be known as the digital divide. There are currently two major schools of thought regarding the digital divide. The first focuses on the lack of access to information and communication technologies (referred to as ITC). The second focuses on the ability to use ITC once access has been gained. The earliest allusion to this issue (that I can find) appeared in a sobering report published in 1995 by the U.S. Department of Commerce entitled Falling Through the Net: A Survey of the “Have Nots” in Rural and Urban America. In this report there were several alarming statistics. If you have any interest at all in this topic, I recommend you check it out for yourself. One important thing to note about the report is that it provides one of the earliest confessions that U.S. telecommunication policy needed to be updated. Until 1995 a major goal of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) was “universal service” and was measured by “telephone penetration.” Contributing authors went on record stating that this method of measurement was not comprehensive enough to address the changing landscape. Not only is access to computers and Internet important, but the knowledge and skills to use them are equally so. In short, the following conclusions were clearly expressed in the report:
1. At least in the United States, the “have nots” primarily reside in rural areas and central cities.
2. Native Americans , Hispanics, and blacks are least likely to have access computers, telephones, and the Internet.
3. People under 25 are the most likely to be denied access. Elderly follow.
4. The less educated a person is, the more likely they are going to be negatively affected.
5. Bridging this gap must be made a priority.
I’ll spare you the numbers (although the numbers are shocking), and look at some of the impacts this divide is making. The economic and social ramifications of such a discrepancy negatively affects not only those who have not, but those who do. The next blog post on this topic will focus on how the widening gap poses a significant challenge for balanced development.