profile considers digital divides in Australia and other
parts of the globe.
It covers -
supplements the discussion in the 'Divides & Broadband
Rankings' page of the Metrics
& Statistics guide and the Community page
in the Digital Environment guide.
We have highlighted overarching initiatives and information
sources on this page. The following pages explore divides
in the advanced, developing and emerging economies.
Some critics have questioned the notion of the internet
as "the global information network", arguing that
the G8 nations (US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan,
Russia and UK) account for under 20% of the world's population,
but 'own' 80% of internet hosts and most traffic. Depending
on whose count you believe, the US 'owns' 83% of the G8
Much of the discussion about 'the Digital Divide' is predicated
on a belief that there is one divide: essentially that relating
to the size of the pipe (or its absence) connecting people
to national/global information infrastructures.
Other discussion has been even more simplistic, characterising
the digital divide as one where there is a simple solution
(personal computers) for a complex problem (poverty).
In fact there are different divides that cannot be effectively
addressed through a simplistic 'one size fits all' model.
In essence, those divides involve differential access to
computers, the net, telecommunications and information.
That differential access involves variables such as income/poverty,
education, race, gender, age, ethnicity, disability and
geography. It includes unequal access to knowledge, training,
resources, job opportunities and the practices of the information
Charles Kenny of the World Bank naughtily commented that
matter to the poor. A system of well-regulated, competitive
communications services will reduce costs and extend access.
In many cases, it may well be worth extending access to
telephony with limited, targeted, carefully designed subsidy
programs. But pursuing universal access to the Internet
would be a misallocation of considerable resources. To
draw an analogy, another technology boasts a 70-fold difference
in access rates between the United States and India, and
economists link that technology to increased productivity
as well. But no one is setting up a UN task force to overcome
the Air Conditioner Divide.
countries face many serious divides, including those in
education, healthcare, and transportation. The relevant
question for the poorest is, does the lack of access to
a particular good provide a significant barrier to becoming
more wealthy? The answer is yes for the tools of communication
in general but no for the Internet in particular.
2005 the World Bank followed up with a report
digital divide is rapidly closing ... People in the developing
world are getting more access at an incredible rate -
far faster than they got access to new technologies in
claimed that half the world's population now enjoys access
to a fixed-line telephone (with 77% to a mobile network).
The South Africa-base Bridges.org
is an international, nonprofit organization concerned with
appropriate use of information and communications technology
in developing and emerging countries.
The World Bank's Development Gateway
offers a range of pointers to development resources. It
has been critiqued in a report
by the Bretton Woods Project as overly biased towards top-down,
large-scale and culturally inappropriate solutions. The
US Population Reference Bureau (PRB) World Population
Data Sheet (PDF)
provides statistics about population sizes, life expectancy,
fertility rates, infant mortality, energy use and income
The Markle Foundation, the US nonprofit representative on
the DOT Force, has a useful global divides page.
In the world where it seems that every subject, however
obscure, has been colonised by a professional society and
commoditised through a journal there is a surprising absence
of scholarly journals devoted to the digital divide/s. Most
literature has appeared in journals with a wider focus.
A valuable source about developments within Asia is the
Electronic Journal on Information Systems in Developing
For global statistical reports refer to the Divides page
of the Metrics & Statistics guide on this site. The
International Telecommunications Union (ITU)
has published a number of 'internet access' papers
and case studies.
Its December 2002 telecommunications snapshot (PDF)
about ICT is sobering - of 141 million internet hosts across
the globe some 106.2 million are in the US and a mere 0.274
million in Africa (0.238 million in South Africa). The estimated
number of personal computers in Australia is 10 million,
in New Zealand is 1.5 million, in the US is 178 million
and in all of Africa 7.55 million.
indicative figures for uptake of the net, as of early 2002,
2006 that was
benchmarks for other technologies are highlighted here.
As of early 2001 around 67% of Australian households were
not connected to the net (the apparent discrepancy in NOIE
and other figures reflects access via work). Users were
predominantly young, male, earning in excess of $75,000,
employed, and living in metropolitan areas. The online population
has grown and normalised since that time.
Those on low incomes, without tertiary education, living
in rural/remote areas, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
heritage, with disabilities, with a language background
other than English, and aged over 55 are however still less
likely to be online.
By mid 2008 over 52% of Australian households were estimated
by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as having broadband.
75% had a personal computer.
in the 1998 MOSAIC Group report
on The Global Diffusion of the Internet Project: An Initial
Inductive Study are dated but the analysis remains of
value, particularly for understanding uptake of the net
in countries around the Persian Gulf.
Menzie Chinn & Robert Fairlie's 2004 The Determinants
of The Global Digital Divide: A Cross-Country Analysis of
Computer & Internet Penetration (PDF)
is of value.
Some of UNESCO's 1996 figures, although problematical, are
suggestive of underlying differences:
(US$ per person)
illiteracy (% population)
letters per head pa
kg consumed per head pa
lines per 1000 head
subscribers per 1000 head
per 1000 head
per 1000 head
per 1000 head
At a global level the October 2000 conference in Seattle
(of course) of the Digital Dividend Organisation (DDO)
claimed that there were more telephones in New York City
than in all of rural Asia, more internet accounts in London
than all of Africa. Speakers reported that as much as 80%
of the world's population had never made a phone call and
although the net "connects 100 million computers"
that "represents less than 2% of the world's population".
The World Economic Forum's Global Digital Divide Initiative
similarly announced that "Finland alone has more internet
users than the whole of Latin America".
80% of Haiti's roughly eight million citizens live on less
than a dollar a day; 85% may be illiterate. The 2002 Energy
& Poverty (PDF)
study by the International Energy Agency suggested that
across the globe around 1.6 billion people have no access
to electricity and that 2.4 billion rely on primitive biomass
(eg straw and dried cow dung) for cooking and heating.
For gender issues see the 266 page International Development
Research Centre report
edited by Eva Rathgeber & Edith Ofwona Adera on Gender
and the Information Revolution in Africa (2000).
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