Online Participation and Digital Divide: An Empirical Evaluation of U.S. Midwestern Municipalities

Online Participation and Digital Divide: An Empirical Evaluation of U.S. Midwestern Municipalities

Stephen K. Aikins (University of South Florida, USA) and Meena Chary (University of South Florida, USA)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1852-7.ch004


This chapter examines whether government officials’ deployment of resources to broaden Internet access and participation is influenced by officials’ communication preferences and socioeconomic factors. The concern that the Internet explosion has alienated and marginalized some citizens from the democratic process and civic life has generated intellectual debate and led governments and other sectors to take measures to bridge the gap created by the digital divide. Although several studies have been conducted on the subject, few are yet to be done on the influence of government officials’ communication preferences and socioeconomic factors on resource deployment to broaden access and participation. Drawing on the theories of technological diffusion and determinism, as well as developmental and democratic theories, we argue that officials’ communication preferences and socioeconomic factors will be important in broadening Internet access and participation. Survey data, local government Web site contents and census data were analyzed. Results reveal that officials are not eager to commit resources to activities that broaden access and participation because they generally prefer to communicate with citizens via traditional channels. In addition, the sizes of the elderly and Black population, as well as the relative affluence of cities, do influence the presence of deliberative features on city Web sites.
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The Digital Divide Debate

As the development of the information society has become an important priority for many governments around the world, issues about the disparity between the “information rich” and “information poor” have attracted much academic attention and research. The importance of this effort lies in the fact that information in today’s world is regarded as an important resource for advancing education, culture, science and technology, the absence of which is an epitome for underdevelopment (Kargbo 2002). Some scholars have addressed the specific dimensions of the digital divide from racial (Mack 2001) and global (Norris 2001) to multi-dimensional aspects (Compaine 2001, Mossberger et al. 2003). Others have examined the relationship between information and telecommunication technologies (ICT) and social inclusion (Warschauer 2003), and others have addressed the digital divide as a problem of persistent inequality (Servon 2002).

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