The Digital Divide has Not Gone Away

The digital divide has not gone away

by Vic Sutton*

The digital divide is still very much with us.

In the USA, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, one in five adults still does not use the Internet.

To quote:

Senior citizens, those who prefer to take our interviews in Spanish rather than English, adults with less than a high school education, and those living in households earning less than $30,000 per year are the least likely adults to have Internet access.”

Why do people not access the Internet? The reasons are mixed. Some people just do not have broadband access (see the National Broadband Map at This is a problem in rural communities, in particular.

Some cannot afford a subscription to broadband service.
And others simply do not get around to it.

Mobile phones do appear to have made a difference. You no longer have to have a computer and DSL line to access the Internet.

To quote from dotMobi, “As of the end of 2011, there were 6 billion mobile subscriptions around the world, according to estimates from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). That is equivalent to 87 percent of the world population, and it is a huge increase from 5.4 billion in 2010 and 4.7 billion mobile subscriptions in 2009.

“In the first half of 2012, the number of mobile Web users in China was 388 million, compared to 380 million desktop Web users, according to CNNIC.”

And at a global level, in a world with an estimated population approaching seven billion?

Inequities persist. The following table is based on data from Internet World Stats, which uses ITU and  commercial statistics (all figures are rounded):

Region Population (est.) Internet users Penetration by %
Africa       1,038 million   140 million 13.5
Asia       3,880 million 1,017 million 26.2
Europe          816 million  501 million 61.3
Middle East          216 million   77 million 35.6
North America          347 million 273 million 78.6
L. America/Caribbean 597 million  236 million 39.5
Oceania/Australia   35 million     24 million 67.5
World 6,930 million 2,267 million 32.7

In other words, only one in three people access the Internet, despite the rapid spread of mobile technology.

So every time someone says “Just go online and…” they are leaving out one in five U.S. residents, and two thirds of the people around the world.

The biggest single factor in this must, of course, be economic. This is not the place to go into details about disparities in income around the world, but the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will shed a lot of light on them.

* Vic Sutton is the current Chair of the Special Interest Group on Digital Equity (SIGDE) of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).