Is the World Wide Web really world wide?
The current digital divide and where we’re headed
It wasn’t until I grew up that I learned the value in education.
“Give a man a fish feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” (Chinese proverb)
I believe that education is the foundation for self-autonomy and for the progressiveness of a community. The more we educate and communicate as a global society, the more progressive we can become as people. Unfortunately the world is far from fair. And many grow up restricted or absent from any form of education. However in the time we live in now there is a grand possibility for change, and that change is the internet. The internet provides free/low-cost education and unlimited possibilities for autodidactism. So the answer seems really simple right? Everyone in the world should have access to the internet. And in some ways that answer is quite simple, but unfortunately if you dig a little deeper it can get very complicated.
“68% of the planet lives without internet access — that is 4.6 billion people.” Source
A digital divide is a gap between the people of this world who have access to the internet (and other information communication technologies) and the people who don’t. Source
“Proponents for closing the digital divide include improved literacy, democracy, social mobility, economic equality and economic growth.” Source
I clearly have access to the internet and most of my network does too, so where does this digital divide occur?
The digital divide can more easily be seen when comparing developed and developing countries, however the digital divide also occurs in our own backyard.
Canada’s Digital Divide
Who is missing from the web in Canada?
- Rural households — “Broadband is available to 100 per cent of Canadians in urban areas, compared to 85 per cent in rural areas.” Source
- Low-income households — “Some Canadians are cutting into their rent and grocery budgets in order to pay their internet bills” Source
- Remote northern communities — “Only 27 per cent of communities in that territory [Nunavut] have internet access.” Source
- Native reserves — “About half of the Aboriginal population continues to reside in rural and remote communities, where this infrastructure [broadband] is generally non-existent.” Source
Access to the internet is not yet a cost that everyone can afford. Specifically in remote areas, corporate services providers are less likely to set up networks there because of the higher cost in maintenance (Source). This leaves many without access or with the bare minimum, preventing many Canadian residents to become active users in our growing online society.
What initiatives are being taken to close this gap?
“The Affordable Access Coalition, made up of public policy, consumer advocate and anti-poverty organizations, is petitioning the CRTC to subsidize internet access for low-income and rural Canadians.” Source
The federal government has committed to providing $305 million in funds over the next five years (starting in 2014) to close this gap and supply better internet access to around 280,000 homes and businesses in need. Source
As the technologies become more efficient and affordable, and the government fulfills their goals — I hope to see all of Canada successfully connected within 5–8 years.
The World’s Digital Divide
Who is missing from the web globally?
The photo above demonstrates how certain parts of the world, like South Asia and Africa, have the least internet use.
- Cost — the cost for internet is too high in these areas — people are making just enough income to pay for food, housing and other necessities, so internet use isn’t a priority. Source
- Government — in some countries like Cuba, the government extensively censors the internet. They also require people to have a special permit to use it, so many are left without access. Source
- Infrastructure — living in remote regions has not permitted the use of internet access for many people. Many companies have yet to establish a way to provide efficient internet access in more isolated areas. Source
- Literacy — many of these regions have lower literacy rates and so even if internet can be provided, literacy and digital literacy have to be established in order to make use of the internet. Source
What initiatives are being taken to close the gap?
I was actually pretty astonished to find so many different organizations and initiatives undertaking the same goal of closing the digital divide. Each have there own way of achieving this goal but all have the same vision.
Here are a list of sites I found that all are aiming to close the digital divide:
Billions of people can't access the Internet. A Human Right is ensuring that everyone can get online.ahumanright.org
We aim to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. To this end, we have designed…one.laptop.org
With these strategic underpinnings in place, the Internet Society has identified and undertaken a number of projects to…www.internetsociety.org
Close the Gap is an international non-profit organisation that aims to bridge the digital divide by offering high…close-the-gap.org
60% of the world's people are still not connected to the Internet - the majority of them women and people living in…webfoundation.org
Project Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to bring Internet connectivity to rural and remote…www.solveforx.com
Where we’re headed
Personally, I see an an upwards trend in closing the gap. As new technologies develop and people start to realize the power the internet has in creating a better global society, the world will continue to become more connected.
And it is:
“The number of reported internet users is up by 10% [from 2015], growing by 332 million.” Source
“Mobile social media users leapt 17%, adding 283 million new users.” Source
The rapid growth of Internet access in emerging economies, experts say, reflects a growing recognition by governments…america.aljazeera.com
I hope this trend continues, because with internet comes education, and with education comes a progressive society.