In the 21st century, the Internet seems ubiquitous. After all, it’s always on and you’re always connected. Even when away from home or the office, you likely have Internet access in the palm of your hand thanks to the popularity of smartphones and the relative affordability of data plans. However, a digital divide exists. What is the digital divide and who does it affect?
The digital divide is term used to describe the gap between people with access to information and communications technologies and those without. In the U.S., access limitations typically stem from either financial status or geographic location. For example, low-income residents living in rural communities are less likely to have access to the Internet than their high-income urban counterparts.
In other parts of the world, these same factors affect Internet access as do other factors such as governmental policies and infrastructure. For example, according to the Home Broadband 2010 report issued by Pew Internet, 66 percent of American adults had a home broadband connection in 2010. Meanwhile, policies in countries such as China, North Korea, and Cuba severely limit Internet access.
While some countries restrict Internet access, others believe it is an inherent right. For example, according to a report published by CNET in October 2009, Finland’s Ministry of Transport and Communications made access to 1 megabit of broadband Internet access a legal right. France’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, also declared Internet access to be a basic human right. Other countries with similar beliefs include Spain, Costa Rica, Greece, and Estonia.
Though most American adults have access to broadband Internet, the digital divide in America still exists according to Pew Internet’s 2012 report titled Digital Differences. According to the report, the current digital divide in America looks like this:
- Those least likely to have home Internet access include: senior citizens, those living in households with incomes less than $30,000 per year, those who preferred to respond to the survey in Spanish, and adults with less than a high school education.
- Disabled adults are less likely than able-bodied adults to go online.
- Mobile devices are changing the digital divide. With 88 percent of adults owning a cell phone, Internet access is now more accessible to populations previously on the other side of the digital divide. For example, minorities and lower-income adults often cite their smartphones as their main source of Internet access.
Another area where the digital divide may be closing in America involves the education system. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2008, 98 percent of all classroom computers had Internet access representing about one Internet-connected computer for every three students.
As nations do more to make the Internet and information more accessible, and as mobile devices continue to be adopted by users across all socioeconomic groups, the digital divide may eventually become a relic of the past.
I, the author, find that who calls me from all over the world is incredibly interesting and that the technological divide will soon become a concept of history only.