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[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]

The session was moderated by Dr Anuradha Rao from the National University of Singapore, Singapore, and addressed policies, priorities, and challenges of the digital divide across the countries of the world. 

Mr Masahiko Tominaga, vice-minister for policy coordination and international affairs at the Ministry of internal affairs and communications in Japan, started by affirming that the Japanese government subsidised both local governments and the operators. Their priority is to have everyone connected at an affordable price. Offering broadband with high speed connections enables people to profit from the new values of information and communication technology (ICT).

The moderator asked Mr Jaromír Novák, chairman of the Council of the Czech Telecommunication Office, what the priorities were to foster innovation in the Czech Republic, and what experiences he had had in bridging digital divides. Novák affirmed that his country wanted to repeat with 5G the success they had had with the implementation of 4G. In addition, he explained how they are producing smart boxes to collect data and prevent cyber-attacks. Also this collected data will serve the next innovation steps. Concerning the digital divide, according to Novák, they have had good experience in focusing on teaching senior citizens how to use smartphones, how to protect themselves, and their rights towards operators. They want to extent this project to young people.

Rao requested Dr Alison Gillwald, executive director for Research ICT Africa, based in South Africa, to explain whether they are using the right indicators to measure the progress of ICTs towards the 2030 targets, and to talk about digital inequality. Gillwald responded firstly by affirming that they are systematically collecting data for public policy on the continent. She noted that the digital divide is based on connectivity and focused on the need for infrastructure. However, what they have seen with the Internet is that inequality remains, beyond connectivity. There is a digital paradox that the more people are connected, the more they demand higher services, increasing inequality. Gillward questioned how to address the fact that across the global south, we do not have a precise idea of where we are in terms of the digital divide or digital inequality, or how far we have gotten in terms of meeting the sustainable development goals (SDGs). We are unable to say how many women, men, children, or members of the rural population are connected. The real challenges are on the demand side. The real factors of inequality are education and income.

Rao asked Mr Cliff Schmidt, founder and executive director of Amplio, USA, whether attempts to bridge the digital divide can in fact do harm to the most vulnerable families, and how ICT can marginalise groups. Schmidt claimed that the digital divide can in fact be bigger when different actors think it is becoming smaller. He gave a few examples, including the provision of a health promotion service by text message. In this case, public and private actors are reaching firstly people who are literate. Schmidt wondered what could be done. The ITU, the World Health Organization, and his organisation Amplio are partners together in working on reducing the digital divide in most rural areas. They do not rely on most marginalised people having access to the technology or education that the broader population has.

Mr Aleph Molinari, president of Fundación Proacceso, Mexico, responded to two different questions: what are the challenges and opportunities he had faced in implementing a digital inclusion project in Mexico, and what is the next step to bridge the digital divide. Molinari stated that the main challenge in Mexico was infrastructure. The second was connectivity, especially in the rural areas. And the third was the need to improve more intersectionality.

Dr Cosmas Zavazava, chief of department for projects and knowledge management in the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), addressed the concept of the digital divide. Traditionally the digital divide has been defined in terms of connectivity. However, skills and uses of technology have to be taken into account when one talks about the digital divide. Use includes affordability. In addition, in developing countries, the education level is quite limited and the skills to use ICTs are also limited. In terms of capacity building, all these aspects should be taken into consideration.


By Ana Corrêa