The Internet Isn’t a Given — Understanding the Digital Divide

Digital divide is a term defined as “the discrepancy between people who have access to and the resources to use new information and communication tools, such as the Internet, and people who do not have the resources and access to such technology. It also describes the discrepancy between those who have the skills, knowledge, and abilities to use the technologies, and those who do not” (Webopedia).

Digital divide typically exists between:

  • Cities vs. rural areas
  • Educated vs. uneducated
  • Between socioeconomic groups
  • Globally, between more vs. less industrially developed nations

Digital divide can also become evident for those with lower-performance computers, lower speed wi-fi, dial-up connections, and limited access to subscription based content (Whatis).

Here is what it is like for a family without Internet connection in the United States:

While companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook have launched initiatives to help close the gap, experts have emphasized that “there is no single technology or network structure that makes sense for every community” (Spectrum). It is more likely that these companies are trying to benefit by having people gain access from certain areas, as this would increase their stock prices due to the influx of users on their website.

However, experts have agreed that there are three good starting points to help to bridge the digital divide gap:

  1. Permit unlicensed use of white space — TV and radio frequencies not currently in use that smartphones, tablets, and computers can take advantage of to transmit wireless broadband signals as well as carry data over long distances and reach indoors.
  2. Adopt a “dig once” mentality — multiple companies may want to install new fibre optic cables to provide Internet access to a house or community at different times, which can often result in construction crews tearing up the same land multiple times. It would be much easier to have a single conduit alongside each road that future fibre optic cables could be threaded into, which would reduce the cost of deploying Internet by 90%.
  3. Develop local content — providing technical tools for Internet access isn’t sufficient; companies and technologists need to engage with local communities to build better networks that suit their purposes. One key response is producing local content that is relevant to potential new users in their native languages.


If you want to know more about the digital divide, follow the link for an interesting Ted Talk: