Digital Divide Versus Digital Inequality

Digital Divide vs. Digital Inequality

Access to the internet is a necessity in order to be fully involved in the world today. Terms such as the “digital divide” or more recently “digital inequality” helps define some of the problems facing society. This inequality is caused by many factors such as political, socio-economic, location, race, and age. The internet is often seen as being superficial with no real connection to people.  In actuality, it is an interpersonal and social tool used by millions of people everyday.  In order for students to maximize their educational potential, it is crucial for them to have access to the internet.

Digital Divide

To better understand the issue, there is a need to define and compare digital divide to digital inequality. Digital divide can be explained as, some people have access to the internet and some people simply do not. There is a divide between people who can get online and use the internet and those who do not have access. However, this divide is not as large as it use to be. With around 98% of schools having computers with internet access, many students who would not have access now do. There are also other avenues of obtaining access, such as libraries and even internet cafes that supply the computer.

Digital Inequality

To some, digital inequality seems more pressing than the digital divide, simply because more and more households from all backgrounds have internet access. Digital inequality is when people have access to the internet, but the materials they own, such as computers and bandwidth, limit the quality of use they get from the internet. Generally lower income people have slower bandwidths and older computers with older software. Therefore, the internet is slower and can’t be used to the fullest extend. Some may find this frustrating and not use the internet as much, or not use it to its fullest potential because their equipment can’t keep up.

Part of the problem for both the digital divide and inequality is the way that internet providers in the United States do business. The U.S. is ranked 19th in the world for broadband internet use, which is ironic since the internet was created here. The original hope was for internet connectivity to bedriven down at the turn of the century because phone and cable companies were made to compete for services.   Since then, however, competing companies collectively raised internet prices making it too expensive for some lower income households to own.   In addition, broadband speeds in the U.S. have not increased as rapidly as other countries.

How to solve the problem

Now is the time to find the answer to the problem of both the digital divide and digital inequality. The U.S. Government could look at Sweden for a model. Sweden is ranked #1 in the world for internet use. This is because Sweden has one open network that all providers use, unlike the U.S. where AT&T and Verizon, along with others have closed networks. In Sweden people can change from one provider to another with little or no hassle. Usually it takes just a few clicks on the keyboard.

There are still many who suffer from having no access to the internet. There are some who argue it should be put into an assistance program to help all households gain access. However, this would take money and may be a hard sell since the internet is still seen as a luxury instead of a need.  The solution is to change the way the internet is perceived.  It is not just another cool gadget or inanimate object.  It can connect millions of people who would have never interacted and is becoming more of a necessity in todays globalized society.  In order to get connected and to help students from all socio-economic backgrounds get a head start, we need to make sure that every household has access to the internet and the equipment necessary to use it successfully.

Resources:

arzilai-Nahon, K. (2006). Gaps and bits: Conceptualizing measurements for digital divide/s. The Information Society22(5), 269-278. (PDF file)

Computer and Internet Use by Students in 2003. (2006). Retrieved fromhttp://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006065

Cooper, M. (2004). Expanding the digital divide and falling behind in broadband. Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union. Retrieved from http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/digitaldivide.pdf

DiMaggio, P., & Hargittai, E. (2001). From the ‘digital divide’ to ‘digital inequality:’ Studying Internet use as penetration increases. Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Working Paper Series number15. Retrieved from http://www.princeton.edu/~arts…gittai.pdf

DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C., & Shafer, S. (2004). From unequal access to differentiated use: A literature review and agenda for research on digital inequality. Social Inequality, 355-400. Retrieved fromhttp://www.eszter.com/research…uality.pdf

Hargittai, E. (2003). The digital divide and what to do about it. New Economy Handbook, 821-839. Retrieved fromhttp://www.eszter.com/research…divide.pdf

ITU Country rankings. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.itu.int/net/itunews/issues/2010/03/26.aspx

McConnaughey, J., Nila, C. A., & Sloan, T. (1995). Falling through the net: A survey of the “have nots” in rural and urban America. National Telecommunications And Information Administration. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/fallingthru.html

Schenker, J. (2008). Sweden’s Open Network Pioneer. Speigal Online International. Retrieved fromhttp://www.speigal.de/international/business/html

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