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The Digital Divide, ICT
and the 50x15 Initiative

ICT - Information Communications Technologies

The Digital Divide, or the digital split, is a social issue referring to the differing amount of information between those who have access to the Internet (specially broadband access) and those who do not have access. The term became popular among concerned parties, such as scholars, policy makers, and advocacy groups, in the late 1990s.

Dimensions of the Divide
Broadly speaking, the difference is not necessarily determined by the access to the Internet, but by access to ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) and to Media that the different segments of society can use. With regards to the Internet, the access is only one aspect, other factors such as the quality of connection and related services should be considered. Today the most discussed issue is the availability of the access at an affordable cost.

The problem is often discussed in an international context, indicating certain countries such as the U.S. are far more equipped than other developing countries to exploit the benefits from the rapidly expanding Internet.

The digital divide is not indeed a clear single gap which divides a society into two groups. Researchers report that disadvantage can take such forms as lower-performance computers, lower-quality or high price connections (i.e. narrowband or dialup connection), difficulty of obtaining technical assistance, and lower access to subscription-based contents.

Bridging the Gap
The idea that some information and communication technologies are vital to quality civic life is not new. Some suggest that the Internet and other ICTs are somehow transforming society, improving our mutual understanding, eliminating power differentials, realizing a truly free and democratic society, and other benefits.

In many countries, access to the telephone system is considered such a vital element that governments implement various policies to offer affordable telephone service. Unfortunately some countries lack sufficient telephone lines.

Literacy is arguably another such element, although it is not related to any new technologies or latest technological devices. It is a very widely shared view in many societies that being literate is essential to one's career, to self-guided learning, to political participation, and to Internet usage.

There are a variety of arguments regarding why closing the digital divide is important. The major arguments are the following:

1. Economic equality
Some think that the access to the Internet is a basic component of civil life that some developed countries aim to guarantee for their citizens. Telephone is often considered important for security reasons. Health, criminal, and other types of emergencies might indeed be handled better if the person in trouble has an access to the telephone. Another important fact seems to be that much vital information for people's career, civic life, safety, etc. are increasingly provided via the Internet. Even social welfare services are sometimes administered and offered electronically.

2. Social mobility
Some believe that computer and computer network 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.

3. Democracy
Some think that the use of the Internet would lead to a healthier democracy in one way or another. Among the most ambitious visions are that of increased public participation in election and decision making processes.

4. Economic growth
Some think 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.

Rural areas access
The accessibility of rural areas to the Internet is a test of the digital divide. But nowadays there are different ways to eliminate the digital divide in rural areas. Use of Power lines (PLT and PLC) and satellite communications offer new possibilities of universal access to the Internet, and lack of telephone lines will not limit access. Lower access prices are required to bridge the ICT divide.

Disabilities of potential Internet users constitute another type of divide and care should be taken to avoid that persons with disabilities be left out of Internet access.

"The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability
is an essential aspect."

-- Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and
inventor of the World Wide Web


International Links, Resources and Partners

The 50x15 Initiative
The Digital Divide can and should be made smaller. This idea has found eco in many
private and public organizations. One of the companies that has taken an active and
leading role in this effort is
AMD. The "50x15" initiative consists of AMD’s support
to empower 50 percent of the world’s population with Internet access by 2015.

Hector Ruiz, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of AMD has stated that:
“Technology is only as powerful as it is accessible. Broader access brings
education, information, and a sense of community that can help combat AIDS,
malnutrition, ignorance and neglect. The power of a connected and enlightened
world community is just beginning.”

Learning Labs from the 50x15 Initiative are already present in Brazil, China,
the Caribbean, and in Africa (Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius,
Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda) and many more are in planning stage.

The 50x15 Initiative

Countries that already have over 50% Internet Penetration


The Information Society

United Nations E-Government Readiness Report 2005
Download this pdf report ranking the 191 Member States of the UN according to
a quantitative composite index of e-readiness based on website assessment,
telecommunication infrastructure and human resource endowment.

APC - The Association for Progressive Communications
Information and communication technologies, ICT adoption
and implementation at national, regional and global levels.

African Internet Connectivity
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) Telecommunications,
Internet and Computer Infrastructure in 54 countries & territories in Africa.

Press Release on the ICT Report

Digital Access Index - Country Ranking List

Broadband Usage Keeps Growing in the World


( Education and e-Learning )

Wikipedia Foundation
The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated
to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual content,
and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge.

International Development Research Center
IDRC is a Canadian public corporation that works in close collaboration
with researchers from the developing world in their search for the means
to build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies.

The African Virtual University

Blackboard is a provider of enterprise software and ASP services to the education
industry. The product line consists of five software applications bundled in two
suites, the Blackboard Academic Suite (TM) and the Blackboard Commerce
Suite (TM). Blackboard’s clients include colleges, universities, schools and
other education providers, as well as textbook publishers and student-focused
merchants that serve education providers and their students.

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
WAI, in coordination with organizations around the world, pursues accessibility
of the Web through five primary areas of work: technology, guidelines, tools,
education and outreach, and research and development.

Web site featuring the basic concepts of accessibility and the specific
techniques for helping Internet access to people with disabilities.

World Economic Forum
The World Economic Forum is an independent international organization
committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in
partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

Equal Access to Software and Information - EASI
EASI's mission is to serve as a resource by providing information and guidance
in the area of access-to-information technologies by individuals with disabilities.
EASI collects information about developments and advancements within the
adaptive computer technology field and spreads that information to colleges,
universities, K-12 schools, libraries and into the workplace.

@lis online Initiative
The Europe Latin America Cooperation Portal
on the Information Society.

Close the Gap Initiative
Companies wanting to replace their computers, can
donate their used IT-equipment to Close the Gap.

Social, Economical and Political Change
Web site of The Global Social Change Research Project.


( International Websites )

European Union and the Knowledge Society

Asia-Europe Young Leaders Symposium

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

OECD - Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

The ICAAP Global Change Reports
A series of reports on Global Social Changes.

The Global Digital Divide is Narrowing
The "digital divide" between rich and poor nations is
narrowing fast, according to a World Bank report.

Digital Divide Network DDN

Wikipedia - the Free Encyclopedia
Further reading on the Digital Divide


( International Economic Developement Organizations )

African Development Bank

Asian Development Bank

Asian Development Bank Institute

Caribbean Development Bank

Development Bank of Southern Africa

Inter-American Development Bank

Islamic Development Bank

page updated
5 November 2007

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