Digital divide

Updates

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development released its annual report. It provides a global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data measuring broadband access against the Commission's seven advocacy targets. ‘The State of Broadband: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development” revealed that a growing number of governments started to benchmark the status of broadband in their national plans. In parallel, the report raised concerns for the growing inequalities in access to broadband and how connectivity is used within and between countries, sexes and regions. The report cites the rapidly expanding use of digital finance services – currently at 15.8% of the global population and anticipated to increase to 40% of the global population by 2025. The Commission presents recommendations on how to boost broadband, clustered in eight areas. It also identifies key enablers to bring more businesses and small-and medium-sized businesses online. The report highlights the impact of rapidly evolving communication and information technologies (ICTs), including the implications of emerging trends like the Internet of Things, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. It revealed that that at least 15 countries now have strategies in place for promoting the safe use of Artificial Intelligence.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and UN Women, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, have launched a new initiative to equip girls and young women in Africa with digital literacy skills. The African Girls Can CODE Initiative (AGCCI) is a four-year progamme that aims to train and empower girls and young women aged 17 to 20 years old across Africa to become computer programmers, creators and designers, and to take up studies and careers in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. Over the next four years, the initiative plans to hold 14 coding camps across Africa, the last of which is planned to coincide with the 2022 African Union Summit. The main aim of the camps is to inspire young girls to build their computing and ICT skills through hands-on experiences.

Google Station, the web giant’s public wifi service, has gone live in Nigeria. Google will partner with local service providers for infrastructure and locations while it offers a cloud-based platform and devices to provide and manage hot-spots. Google Station will be available in malls, airports and schools. The service is operating in four locations in Lagos, and will be expanded to 200 locations across five additional Nigerian cities—Port Harcourt, Abuja, Kaduna, Enugu, Ibadan—by the end of 2019. Google Station’s speed of 30 megabits per second (Mbps) far exceeds the 1.86 Mbps average internet speed in Nigeria, according to a UK analytics firm Cable.  Google Station is also available in India, Indonesia, Mexico and Thailand.

Facebook plans to provide broadband access to remote areas from a constellation of satellites sent into a low orbit. Massive satellites in high orbit are already used to provide internet to unserved and underserved regions, but it usually results in slow connections. Facebook and other companies hope satellites in lower orbit, formed in a cluster, will yield faster speeds. According to emails obtained from the Federal Communications Commission in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by WIRED, Facebook wants to launch Athena, its own internet satellite, in early 2019. The new device is designed to “efficiently provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world”.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., has announced the first commercial deal of project Loon, celebrated with Telkom Kenya. High-altitude balloons will provide 4G/LTE cellular access to the country in 2019. The balloons will be tested in central Kenya, which has been difficult to service due to mountainous or inaccessible terrain. The high-altitude balloons have already been deployed in emergencies in Peru and Puerto Rico, where they helped regions devastated by floods and hurricanes. The announcement comes just a week after Loon graduated from Alphabet's "moonshot factory" known as X. This means that Loon is considered a full-fledged company beside sibling companies including Google and self-driving car developer Waymo.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs launched a ranking of countries on e-government development. According to the publication, despite recent progress and major investments in e-government, the world’s poorest countries are lagging behind due to a persisting the digital divide. Fourteen countries out of sixteen with low scores are African and belong to the least developed countries group. This indicates that the digital divide could deepen between people who have access to Internet and online services and those who do not, jeopardizing the vision of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development for ‘leaving no one behind’. Denmark, Australia, and Republic of Korea came out on top of a group of 40 countries, scoring very high on the E-Government Development Index—EGDI, which measures countries’ use of information and communications technologies to deliver public services. Globally, almost two thirds of 193 United Nations Members States now demonstrate a high-level of e-government development with EGDI values above in the range of 0.5 and 1. The share of countries with low e-government levels, in the range of 0 to 0.25, has dropped by a significant 50 percent, from 32 countries in 2016 to 16 countries in 2018.

The digital divide can be defined as a rift between those who, for technical, political, social, or economic reasons, have access and capabilities to use ICT/Internet, and those who do not. Various views have been put forward about the size and relevance of the digital divide. Digital divide(s) exist at different levels: within countries and between countries, between rural and urban populations, between the old and the young, as well as between men and women.

The OECD refers to the digital divide as ‘the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socioeconomic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities’.

 

 

Digital divides are not independent phenomena. They reflect existing broad socio-economic inequalities in education, healthcare, capital, shelter, employment, clean water, and food. This was clearly stated by the G8 Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT Force): ‘There is no dichotomy between the “digital divide” and the broader social and economic divides which the development process should address; the digital divide needs to be understood and addressed in the context of these broader divides.’

Is the digital divide widening?

ICT/Internet developments leave the developing world behind at a much faster rate than advances in other fields (e.g. agricultural or medical techniques) and, as the developed world has the necessary tools to successfully use these technological advances, the digital divide appears to be continuously and rapidly widening. This is frequently the view expressed in various highly regarded documents, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Reports and the ILO Global Employment Reports.

Some opposing views argue that statistics on the digital divide are often misleading and that the digital divide is in fact not widening at all. According to this view, the traditional focus on the number of computers, the number of Internet websites, or the available bandwidth should be replaced with a focus on the broader impact of ICT/Internet on societies in developing countries. Frequently quoted examples are the digital successes of Brazil, India, and China. However, the criteria for assessing the digital divide gaps are also changing and becoming more complex in order to better capture the development realities. Current assessments take into account aspects like ICT readiness and overall ICT impact on society. The World Economic Forum has developed the Networked Readiness Index (NRI) as a new approach in measuring the Internet-level of countries worldwide. It also provides new perspectives on how the digital divide is addressed.

Universal access

In addition to the digital divide, another frequently mentioned concept in the development debate is universal access, i.e., access for all. Although it should be the cornerstone of any digital development policy, differing perceptions and conceptions of the nature and scope of this universal access policy remain. The question of universal access at global level remains largely an open issue, ultimately dependent on the readiness of developed countries to invest in the realisation of this goal.

Unlike universal access at global level, in some countries universal access is a well-developed economic and legal concept. Providing telecommunication access to all citizens has been the basis of US telecommunication policy. The result has been a well-developed system of various policy and financial mechanisms, the purpose of which is to subsidise access costs in remote areas and regions with high connection costs. The subsidy is financed by regions with low connection costs, primarily the big cities. The EU has also taken a  number of concrete steps towards achieving universal access by promoting policies to ensure every citizen has access to basic communication services, including Internet connection, and enacting specific regulations thereof.

Strategies for overcoming the digital divide

The technologically centred development theory, which has dominated policy and academic circles over the past 50 years, argues that development depends on the availability of technology. However, this approach failed in many countries (mainly former socialist countries) where it became obvious that the development of society is a much more complex process. Technology is a necessary but  not self-sufficient precondition for development. Other elements include a regulatory framework, financial support, available human resources, and other sociocultural conditions. Even if all of these ingredients are present, the key challenge remains of how and when they should be used, combined, and interplayed.

Events

Actors

(BCSD)

The Commission promotes the adoption of practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband network

...

The Commission promotes the adoption of practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband networks at national level, especially within developing countries. It engages in advocacy activities aimed to demonstrate that broadband networks are basic infrastructures in modern societies and could accelerate the achievement of the sustainable development goals. The Commission publishes an annual State of the Broadband Report, providing an overview of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data measuring broadband access. Other reports, open letters, and calls for actions issues by the Commission also underline the benefits of broadband as a critical infrastructure towards achieving growth and development.

(ITU, UIT)
...

The ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) develops international standards (called recommendations) covering information and communications technologies. Standards are developed on a consensus-based approach, by study groups composed of representatives of ITU members (both member states and companies). These groups focus on a wide range of topics: operational issues, economic and policy issues, broadband networks, Internet protocol based networks, future networks and cloud computing, multimedia, security, the Internet of Things and smart cities, and performance and quality of service. The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA), held every four years, defines the next period of study for the ITU-T.

(A4AI)

A4AI promotes affordable Internet access in developing countries through three strands.

...

A4AI promotes affordable Internet access in developing countries through three strands. First, advocating A4AI policy and regulatory good practices and encouraging different stakeholders to adopt evidence-based ICT policy at the heart of their agendas. Second, conducting and promoting policy and research including: an affordability report which examines policy frameworks that support the affordability and accessibility of the Internet; thematic case studies and country case studies; and a knowledge bank which highlights high-quality research on affordability-related matters produced by members and other leading organisations. Third, working on the ground to build national multistakeholder coalitions to develop solutions tailored to local realities.

(EU)

In establishing its digital single market, the EU has progressively developed a dense 

...

In establishing its digital single market, the EU has progressively developed a dense copyright legislation corresponding to a set of ten directives, which harmonise essential rights of authors, performers, producers and broadcasters. To ensure EU copyright rules are fit for the digital age, the European Commission has recently presented legislative proposals to modernise the EU legal framework, in order to allow more cross-border access to content online and wider opportunities to use copyrighted materials in education, research and cultural heritage; and have a better functioning copyright marketplace.

(CSTD)

The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and

...

The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and international level, and it prepares draft resolutions for the UN Economic and Social Council. These draft resolutions tackle issues ranging from access to information and communication technologies (ICT) and Internet, to  the use of ICTs for early warning and mitigating climate change. At its annual sessions and inter-sessional panels, the Commission also addresses development-related themes such as: science, technology, and innovation for sustainable cities and communities; ICT for inclusive social and economic development; digital development; Internet broadband for inclusive societies; and smart cities and infrastructure.

(NetHope)

NetHope’s work addresses the digital divide both directly and indirectly, by leveraging the cross-sector colla

...

NetHope’s work addresses the digital divide both directly and indirectly, by leveraging the cross-sector collaboration of its members and partners. Its current projects include, among others, refugee assistance by providing mobile connectivity in the Syrian crisis, and broadband connectivity in Kenya, and by actively fighting the digital divide in Kenya through TV White Space technology, thus providing cheap and fast broadband connection. NetHope has also launched the Women and Web Alliance initiative, together with other partners, with the aim to contribute to bridging the gender digital divide.

Instruments

Resolutions & Declarations

IPU Resolution on the Contribution of new information and communication technologies to good governance, the improvement of parliamentary democracy and the management of globalization (2003)

Other Instruments

Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS) (2005)

Resources

Africa goes digital: Leaving no one behind (2018)

Articles

Bridging the Digital Divide in the EU (2015)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Reports

One Internet (2016)
Advancing Digital Societies in Asia (2016)
Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption (2016)
A Pre-Feasibility Study on the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway in the ASEAN Sub-region: Conceptualization, International Traffic & Quality Analysis, Network Topology Design and Implementation Model (2016)
The Digital Economy & Society Index (DESI) 2016 (2016)
State of Connectivity 2015: A Report on Global Internet Access (2016)
Digital Inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean (2016)
Closing the Coverage Gap: Digital Inclusion in Latin America (2016)
Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage continues to climb in Emerging Economies (2016)
A New Regulatory Framework for the Digital Ecosystem (2016)
Proliferation of Indian Languages on Internet (2016)
2016 Digital yearbook (2016)
NI Trend Watch 2016 (2015)
Measuring the Information Society 2015 (2015)
The 2015 BCG e-Intensity Index (2015)
UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030 (2015)
The Mobile Economy - Arab States 2015 (2015)
Women's Rights Online: Translating Access into Empowerment (2015)
Mobile for Development Impact (2015)
The State of Broadband 2015 (2015)
Global Internet Report 2015 (2015)
The Global Information Technology Report 2015: ICTs for Inclusive Growth (2015)
Renewing the Knowledge Societies Vision for Peace and Sustainable Development (2013)
The Relationship between Local Content, Internet Development and Access Prices (2013)
Smart Policies to Close the Digital Divide: Best Practices from Around the World (2012)

GIP event reports

Sustainable technology-enabled trade and a more inclusive trading system - Small state, ACP States, LDC and SSA perspective (2018)
Inclusive trade and new technologies: Challanges for African countries (2018)
Leveraging technology to support SMEs in LDCs: Opportunities and challenges (2018)
Digital trade - Global anarchy or revival of rule-based world order? (2018)
The great connector: Digital trade policy as a path to a comprehensive framework for multilateral regulations of trade and socio-economic development (2018)
How e-commerce will drive inclusivity and become a profitable reality for SMEs & MSMEs by 2030 (2018)
E-commerce 2030: Enabling an inclusive future for e-commerce (2018)
High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (2017)
Key-note Speeches on the Future of the Internet (2017)
Launch of eTrade for all Online Platform (2017)
Report for ITU CWG-Internet - 4th Physical Open Consultation Meeting (2017)

Other resources

Action Plan to Close the Digital Gender Gap (2015)

Processes

Click on the ( + ) sign to expand each day.

UNCTAD 2018

WSIS Forum 2018

12th IGF 2017

WTO Public Forum 2017

WSIS Forum 2017

IGF 2016

WTO Public Forum 2016

WSIS Forum 2016

WSIS10HL

IGF 2015

IGF 2016 Report

 

Internet access and connecting the unconnected (Dynamic Coalition on Connecting the Unconnected) was one of the main themes at the IGF 2016 in Guadalajara. The topic was approached from various angles, one of which was community networks, which was dis- cussed by a new Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity, as well as in pre-events and workshops. Challenges and opportunities to access were broken down for: different regions, such as Latin America (The right to access the Internet in Latin America - WS266) and Asia (Asia and the Next Billion: Challenges in Digital Inclusion - WS14); several digital divides, with a focus on connecting gender (Best Practice Forum on Gender & Access), minorities (Lighting Session on Human Rights Online: Internet Access and Minorities), and persons with disabilities (Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disabilities); as well as for specific technologies and initiatives, such as open source (Open Source: A Key Enabler on the Path to the Next Billion - WS21), Wi-Fi (Public Wi-Fi/Open Access Models in Developing Countries - WS161), and public access in libraries (Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries). In addition, there was consensus that meaningful access is more than infrastructure alone; it includes affordability, capacity (Building ‘Demand-Side’ Capacity for Internet Deployment - WS9), and local content (Local content and sustainable growth - WS22) with linguistic diversity (Enhancing Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in Cyberspace - WS19). The notion that there should be no ‘Internet for the poor’ enjoyed widespread agreement, with zero-rating practices being criticised.

WSIS Forum 2016 Report

 

Nearly half of the global population still lacks broadband Internet access, while the importance of the Internet in society has grown. The whole planet should work hand-in-hand to permit everybody to have a fair share of this latest revolution, which would require the support of all relevant stakehold-ers (session 225 on the Global Connect Initiative). Governments not only need to put in place effective policies, but they should also change their per- ception of broadband, recognising it as a core infrastructure that is as important for economic growth and development as the transportation and power infrastructures.

Action Line C6 (Enabling Environment) - Affordable Access for Sustainable Development (session 119) highlighted the need to adopt the right policy and regulations. The affordability of the Internet and related regulations was analysed from the viewpoints of different regions, including West Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific. The session further underlined the importance of collaborations between governments and the industry. Affordability was also highlighted during the WSIS Action Line Facilitators Meeting (session 236) and solutions might be found in enhancing mobile infrastructure.

The digital divide, separating those connected to the Internet and those who lack Internet access, exists between countries and regions, as well as between different groups in society. Action Line C2 (ICT Infrastructure) - Evolving Affordable Broadband Infrastructure for Bringing ICT to All (session 121) indicated some of these divides, including the rural vs urban divide and the divide between developing and developed countries. The challenge of enhancing Internet connectivity in Africa, in particular related to infrastructure and multistakeholder collaboration, was highlighted in WSIS+10 and Beyond: Where do we Stand in Africa? (session 140). Accessibility was also discussed from a human rights perspective.

One particular part of the ‘access’ debate concerns the need for access to information. In Establish an Inclusive, Shared and Open Information Environment, Ensure All Enjoy Information Civilization (session 184), panellists discussed ways to have everyone benefit from communication facilities, including the elderly and disabled persons. Access to knowledge was also addressed in Action Line C3 (Access) - Access to Scientific Knowledge (session 115), which focused on scientific knowledge and the need to break down ‘knowledge monopolies’.

In general, the forum highlighted not only that governments have a responsibility to design effective policies and provide a suitable regulatory environment, but that the Internet industry can also play an important role by designing new business models and crafting innovative ideas. The underlying sentiment was that efforts to increase access and close the digital divide are driven by a wide range of stakeholders who need to create an enabling environment, so that everyone can benefit from the advantages of connectivity. 

IGF 2015 Report

 

Digital divide was addressed in the context of the Internet economy in a number of workshops. With reference to taxation and developing countries, a panellist in Economics of the Global Internet (WS 207), said that despite the economic benefits of accessing ICTs, this did not mean that taxation was not required, but that a more balanced fiscal policy was needed. In How to Bridge the Global Internet Economy Divide (WS 97), a Google representative anchored the discussion to geographical realities: ‘Both regions have challenges, but slightly different. In Europe it’s about scaling and in Africa it is more about access.’ The main challenge, therefore – as suggested in the main session on Internet Economy and Sustainable Development – was how to narrow the divide and empower developing countries. Additionally, we need to tap in to the potential of the Internet economy as a social and economic equaliser.

 

The GIP Digital Watch observatory is provided by

in partnership with

and members of the GIP Steering Committee



 

GIP Digital Watch is operated by

Scroll to Top