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Growing the Internet 2 July 2014

The Digital Divide is Not Binary

Michael Kende
By Michael KendeSenior Fellow and Visiting Lecturer, Graduate Institute, Geneva

The common view of the digital divide is that it separates the Internet haves from the have-nots; dividing those who are online from those who would like to get online, but are prevented based on the availability or affordability of access.  

This view of the divide is fostered by a positive feedback loop – the haves understandably assume everyone wants to join them, while the have-nots understandably push for access.  However, as shown in the recently released Internet Society Global Internet Report, there is an overlooked divide within the have-nots, between those who are interested to get online, and those who are not.  

As shown in the figure below, in a series of country surveys, more non-Internet users indicate that they are not online because of a lack of interest, understanding or time, rather than the affordability or availability of access.  This suggests a nuanced approach to the digital divide, one that focuses not just on providing affordable and universal access to the Internet, but also on increasing interest to use the access.  As discussed in the report, in order to do so, content must be locally relevant – for starters, in the right language – and accessible, preferably hosted in-country to lower the latency and cost of access.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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