The Global Digital Divide and Its Impact on E-Governance

The Global Digital Divide and Its Impact on E-Governance

Michael Howell-Moroney (University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1740-7.ch085
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As technology has continued to advance, a disparity in the diffusion, adoption, and utilization of technology has become apparent. This chapter explores the digital divide and the scholarly research investigating the factors which have been found to influence it. The major finding from extant research is that the digital divide is largely explained by variations in national wealth. These same variations also explain differing levels of e-government readiness and e-participation. The chapter concludes with a discussion of policy choices and dilemmas posed by the digital divide.
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Measuring The Global Digital Divide And Its Determinants

Over the years, scholars have documented large disparities in the usage and ownership of ICT, a disparity which has been coined as the digital divide. In short, the digital divide is the gap in technological infrastructure, prowess and capacity which separates the digital “haves” from the digital “have nots”. Koss writes, “the term digital divide refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels and their opportunities to access information and communication technologies” (p.79). It is clear from Koss’s definition that the digital divide may be examined at a number of different scales, comparing individuals, groups and various higher level geographic aggregations of people. For the purposes of this chapter, the focus is the digital divide among nations of the world,.

In studying the global digital divide, it is useful to cluster nations in such a way that the disparities are easily discernable. Because ICT is generally resource intensive, it requires a fairly sophisticated electrical and telecommunications infrastructure and is most intensively used by higher socioeconomic status populations, one would expect to see large differences in ICT usage, ownership and capacity between wealthy and less wealthy nations. To help facilitate such a comparison, the ICT measures in this section are stratified by three levels of national income, low, middle and high; these grouping are based on an income typology devised by the World Bank. The World Bank classifies countries using Gross National Income (GNI) per capita. Using 2009 figures, low income countries have GNI less than or equal to $995, middle income countries lie between $996 and $12,195; high income countries have GNI per capita of $12,196 or greater. The low income group contains 43 nations; examples of countries in this class are Afghanistan, North Korea, Ethiopia and Haiti. The middle income group contains 97 nations; examples of members in this group are Brazil, Egypt, India and Romania. There are 50 countries in the upper income group, which includes countries such as Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

A fairly straightforward measure of the digital divide is the extent of personal computer ownership. Figure 1 compares computer ownership rates for low income, middle income and high income nations from 1999 to 2006.1 The data show a clear and growing separation in computer ownership between the different groups of countries. In 2006, there were 60.61 computers per 100 population in high income countries, but only 5.05 and 1.71 computers/100 persons in middle and low income countries, respectively. This amounts to a sizeable gap. High income nations had roughly 35 times the rate of computer ownership for low income countries and 12 times that of middle income countries.

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