The term “digital divide” refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities. The digital divide reflects various differences among and within countries. The ability of individuals and businesses to take advantage of the Internet varies significantly across the OECD area as well as between OECD and nonmember countries.
Access to basic telecommunications infrastructures is fundamental to any consideration of the issue, as it precedes and is more widely available than access to and use of the Internet. The so-called “digital divide” raises a number of questions. Where does it occur and why? What are its causes? How is it to be measured? What are the relevant parameters? What is its extent, that is, how wide is the digital divide? Where is it most critical? What are its effects likely to be in the short term? In the longer term?
What needs to be done to alleviate it? These questions have only recently been raised, and it is not possible, as yet, to answer all of them with any certainty. Because of the current interest in these issues, both among governments and the public, the OECD has begun efforts to measure the digital divide. In addition to communications infrastructures, important indicators appear to be computer availability – and potentially the availability of alternative access through TVs or mobile phones – and Internet access (these are “readiness” indicators).
The Internet resulted from the effort to connect various research networks in America and Europe. First DARPA established a program to investigate the interconnection of heterogeneous networks. This program, called Internetting, was based on the newly introduced concept of open architecture networking, in which networks with defined standard interfaces would be interconnected by gateways. By the ...
The digital divide among households appears to depend primarily on two variables, income and education. Other variables, such as household size and type, age, gender, racial and linguistic backgrounds and location also play an important role. The differences in PC and Internet access by household income are very large and increasing, but access in lower income groups is rising. Largely through its effects on income, the higher the level of education, the more likely individuals are to have access to ICTs. The importance of policy and regulatory reform needs to be underlined.
The policy rationale is the social benefits to be derived from the spill overs and positive externalities associated with diffusion and greater use of ICTs and related improvements to the skill base. Governments also recognise the economic activity that may result from electronic commerce. The liberalisation of telecommunication markets and rigorous implementation of competition in OECD countries have stimulated new investment and increased demand for communications access and services through falling prices and the offer of new innovative 1|Page products.
Non-OECD countries can learn valuable lessons from the liberalisation that has taken place in OECD countries and the economic and social benefits this has engendered. The evidence of the benefits of liberalisation in this area is mounting in a number of developing countries which have seen the growth in wireless networks resulting from competition. OECD countries’ policies and programmes aimed at reducing the digital divide range from general approaches aimed at strengthening and extending the infrastructure, to policies to diffuse access and information more widely and to improve the skills of individuals and workers.
Particular attention is paid to policies to improve access in public institutions (libraries, local and regional government facilities, post offices, etc. ) so that individuals can access ICTs at low or no cost, build familiarity and develop skills. Policies for making available low-cost and subsidised access in schools seek to build the future skills base of the workforce and to enhance diffusion. Measures have also been taken to improve access for underprivileged groups, the disabled and the elderly, and for rural, remote and lowincome areas, for reasons of equity and to enhance overall economic efficiency via network effects.
INTRODUCTION The external policy of the EU is generally considered to consist largely of trade negotiations on various bilateral and multilateral stages. There is much debate over the effectiveness of policy with respect to the developing world; in the context of this discussion I have used the term 'developing world' in its widest sense, although I will most commonly focus on the Mediterranean ...
Given the importance of education and its close links to income, policies to improve computer/Internet literacy and build the related skills base in educational institutions and through vocational training are seen as particularly important over the long term. All OECD countries have support programmes for small businesses, which in general are slower to adopt new technologies and which face particular information asymmetries, management and skills issues.
Support for small businesses increasingly has a component aimed at increasing the rate of uptake and use of ICTs. Governments also assist some regions and rural areas owing to particular problems associated with lagging regions. In addition, many OECD countries have identified online delivery of services, information and transfer of government activities and procurement on line as having important demonstration effects as well as improving government efficiency.
Finally, multilateral cooperation is considered important for reducing differences in international digital divides across countries and improving, by learning from others’ experience, the efficiency of measures taken by other countries. Because the OECD area has been at the forefront of what has sometimes been termed the “Internet revolution”, countries that have yet to reap the benefits fully can gain from such co-operation and from the example of policies which appear to be proving effective in the early adopters of computers and the Internet.