Policy as a Bridge across the Global Digital Divide

Policy as a Bridge across the Global Digital Divide

Meena Chary (University of South Florida, USA) and Stephen K. Aikins (University of South Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-699-0.ch003
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This chapter assesses how public policy can be used to bridge the global digital divide, especially in developing nations. First, the chapter characterizes the Internet technologies encompassed within the digital divide according to dimensions of individual socioeconomic characteristics and service provider infrastructure characteristics. Then, the chapter develops a set of technology policy dimensions as they affect those two dimensions, using case vignettes from India to illustrate policy actions. Finally, the chapter makes policy action recommendations to bridge the digital divide, including investments in education and literacy, e-governance, intermediary services, infrastructure, and regulation.
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The characteristics of the global digital divide can be generally grouped into two basic categories (See Figure 1). The first category describes the characteristics of the individuals who are affected by the digital divide – that is, those who fall on either side of that gap in the ability to access and use: users and potential users. The second category of characteristics describes those institutions (private or public) offering the required services to users. These service providers (and potential service providers) may be offering backbone services (such as network capacity) or last-mile services (such as end-user access) (Chandrasekhar, 2003). The combination of these two categories helps us better understand and define the global phenomenon known as the digital divide.

Figure 1.

Characteristics of the global digital divide


As a note, the digital divide is a dynamic phenomenon, changing with time (Bagchi, 2005). Therefore, while we hope to attain a conceptual understanding of the characteristics of the digital divide, how we measure the digital divide must be revisited continually to accommodate the evolution of the phenomenon.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Divide: The gap between those who have ability to access and use ICT and those who do not.

End-User/Last-Mile Services: Services through which users can access the Internet (such as from home, at a cybercafé or a kiosk). Typically runs from exchange facilities to homes and businesses.

(ICT) User: Individuals who have access to and utilize ICT.

Backbone: Bandwidth and capacity required within the network to transport data. Typically, runs between exchange facilities.

Service Provider: Organizations (public and private) providing backbone and end user services required for the users to access and use ICT.

ICT: Information and communication technology, encompassing computing, Internet, traditional telephony and mobile telephony.

Technology Policy: What governments choose to do or not to do regarding the provision and use of ICT.

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