Public Network Access Points

Public Network Access Points

A. M. Haseloff (University of Augsburg, Germany)
Copyright: © 2007 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-789-8.ch210
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The Internet is changing dramatically the way people live, work, communicate, recreate, and participate in public life. But the growth and penetration of the Internet are far from being distributed equally around the globe. In developed countries, the Internet today reaches substantial proportions of the population (e.g., Finland [50,7 %], Germany [56,2 %], the United States [68,8 %]), but in developing countries, Internet penetration often is very low. In Africa, 29 countries still have an Internet penetration of less then 1% (Internet World Stats, 2005). The unequal access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) today often is called the digital divide. This catchy label stands for a multidimensional phenomenon and describes disparities in access to ICTs along various axes and at various levels. Disparities can be found not only in who physically has access to new technologies and who does not, but also in the distribution of the skills required to use the new technologies in an effective way (Hargittai, 2002; Warschauer, 2003). At the next level, disparities can be found in bandwidth and content available to different groups. These disparities are found among countries (global divides) and among different groups within countries (national divides). Although the existence of a digital divide in one or the other form is clearly accepted among scholars, the dimensions, dynamics, and relevance of this phenomenon are still being discussed strongly (for a more detailed discussion, see Cammaertes, Van Audenhove, Nulens & Pauwels, 2003; Compaine, 2001; Mossberger, Tolbert & Stansbury, 2003; Norris, 2001; Warschauer, 2003; ). One of the main strategies that is used to spread access to new technologies is the implementation of public network access points (PNAPs) that provide shared and, therefore, cheaper access to communities with low incomes. PNAPs can be defined as physical spaces where people can access ICT for personal, educational, economic, and democratic development without having to own the necessary hardware and software. This article will give an introduction to PNAPs, starting with a short look at the emergence of this access model, which can be traced back to the early 1980s. After that, the different models that have evolved over the years in different regions of the world will be described briefly before taking a closer look at the role that PNAPs can play in the context of e-governance. Finally, some critical issues like sustainability, content, and management will be discussed before conclusions are drawn.

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