It is certain that the development and growth of the Internet has changed the world we live in. Technology is constantly evolving, yet many people don’t have access to it (for financial, geographic, governmental or other reasons) or are simply choosing not to embrace it. The digital divide is a social issue referring to the differing amount of information between those who have access to the Internet (specifically broadband access) and those who do not. The term became popular among concerned parties such as scholars, policy makers, and advocacy groups in the late 1990’s. When our freedoms in the networked world would first come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF was founded in 1990 and continues to confront cutting edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights.
Broadly speaking, the difference splitting the digital divide is not necessarily determined by the access to the Internet, but by access to Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and to the media that different segments of society can use. The problem is often discussed as an international context, indicating certain countries are far more equipped than other developing countries to exploit the benefits from the rapidly expanding Internet. For example, in South Asia only 4 persons per 1,000 own a personal computer compared to 585 per 1,000 in the US. The digital divide explores this concern and makes efforts towards attaining economic equality- as much vital information for people’s careers, civic lives, safety, etc… is increasingly provided over the internet. Another benefit would be increasing social mobility. Some believe that computer and computer networks play an increasingly important role in their learning and career, so that education should include that of computing and use of the Internet. Without such offerings, the existing digital divide works unfairly to the children in the lower socioeconomic status. In order to provide equal opportunities, governments might offer some form of support.
There are many more visions about how bridging this divide can benefit other nations. Some think that the Internet would lead to a healthier democracy in one way or another. Among the most ambitious visions are those of increased public participation in elections and decision-making processes. Some believe that the development of information infrastructure and active use of it would be a shortcut to economic growth for less developed nations. Information technologies in general tend to be associated with productivity improvements. The exploitation of the latest technologies may give industries of certain countries a competitive advantage.
The digital divide is not just an international issue, but one we face here in the states as well. 46% of Americans use a smartphone. Just over 200 million Americans have high-speed, wired Internet access at home and 2/3 of them get it from their local cable company. Cable’s only real competition comes from Verizon’s FiOS fiber-optic service, which can provide speeds up to 150 megabits per second….but it is only available in about 10% of households. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 American adults does not use the internet. Among the adults who do not use the Internet, almost half have reported that the main reason they don’t go online is that they don’t think the Internet is relevant to them.
The Digital Divide can and should be made smaller. One such movement to attain this is the 50×15 Foundation, an initiative that consists of support to empower 50% of the world’s population with Internet access by 2015. Comcast Internet Essentials program wants to provide low income households with broadband service. In the first 22 months of the program, they connected more than 220,000 households (an estimated 900,000 Americans) to the power of the Internet at home. They have distributed over 18,000 computers and hosted free, in person digital training sessions for more than 20,000 participants.