Bridging the Digital Divide in the US and Globally – An Update on Progress and Promise

29 November 2014
(2 votes)

I have been following and building conversations around the Global Digital Divide for over a decade now, and as we head into a new year, am finding that while some progress is being made in closing the gap, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in a report released earlier this year, the digital divide between developed and developing nations is getting broader.

The 13th edition of the Global Information Technology Report, which measures the capacity of countries to use technology to improve economic growth and social well-being, indicated that that top-ranked countries held or improved their rankings, while highly populated countries like Brazil, China and India experienced a decline in their rankings.

Scandinavian countries were most represented in the Top Ten, with  Finland number one, followed by Singapore, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the United States, Hong Kong, Great Britain  and the Republic of Korea.

Generated through a partnership between the WEF and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, the report’s rankings combined data including tax rates, education enrollment and mobile network coverage, with the results of a survey of more than 15,000 executives.

“Digital Divide” is defined as “a gap between those who have ready access to information and communication technology and the skills to make use of those technology and those who do not have the access or skills to use those same technologies within a geographic area, society or community. It is an economic and social inequality between groups of persons.” (Wikipedia)

There are at least three factors at play: information accessibility, information utilization and information receptiveness. More than just accessibility, individuals need to know how to make use of the information and communication tools once they exist within a community.

The Wikipedia sums up the components like this:

Subjects who have connectivity, or who connects: individuals, organizations, enterprises, schools, hospitals, countries, etc.

Characteristics of connectivity, or which attributes: demographic and socio-economic variables, such as income, education, age, geographic location, etc.

Means of connectivity, or connectivity to what: fixed or mobile, Internet or telephony, digital TV, etc.

Intensity of connectivity, or how sophisticated the usage: mere access, retrieval, interactivity, innovative contributions.

Purpose of connectivity, or why individuals and their cohorts are (not) connecting: reasons individuals are and are not online and uses of the Internet and information and communications technologies ("ICTs").

Dynamics or evolution, whether the gap of concern will increase or decrease in the future, when the gap of concern would be maximized.

Our industry – our community – plays an incredibly important role in the continuing effort to provide “Internet access for all” and affordable devices and applications that make connecting possible and productive.

Beyond the betterment of our own businesses – in an “everybody wins” model – we can also get better organized to bring not only our products and solutions to the governments, organizations and businesses which contribute to education, jobs and economic development, but to also bring our time, talents and volunteer efforts. What good is connectivity without context?

Every year, the United Nations marks “World Telecom and Information Society Day” on May 17th. This year’s theme was “Broadband for Sustainable Development,” and focused on gaining multiple stakeholder support required to address infrastructure, applications, services, and policies including radio frequency spectrum for broadband. 

It is estimated that there will be 10 billion mobile broadband subscribers by the end of this decade, and achieving the promise of that will take cooperation across all the technologies necessary – from fiber to spectrum to satellite, from applications to devices, from security to survivability. The work we do together as an industry and a community, can improve more than just the bottom line of our companies; the work we do can make the difference in quality of life, not just quality of service – whether related to the environment, to education, to healthcare and to overall economic well-being.

Universal broadband? Universal opportunity. When all societies are given the chance to grow and thrive, even conflict subsides.

Finally, a note of appreciation for the team at PCC Mobile Broadband for establishing this new community, “Connecting People.”  A media platform that shares and promotes the advancement of technologies in our industry is value enough; the PCC Mobile Broadband team has taken an important extra step in building dialogue around not just “what” we do but “how” we do and “why” it matters.

2015 will be as productive a year as we all intend for it to be, in the greatest sense of the word.

Bita Milanian is the Senior Vice President of Marketing Communication at GENBAND (genband.com), a leading developer of multimedia and cloud communications solutions. She is a 18-year telecommunications industry veteran, having worked at various startups, fortune 500 and multinational corporations. As the founder and president of Butterfly Buzz (bflybuzz.com) & BMG Consulting (teambmg.com), vice president of marketing at Women in the Channel (womeninthechannel.com) and current advisory board member of Farhang Foundation (farhang.org), Persian American Cancer Institute (paci.org) and Iranian-American Women Foundation (iawfoundation.org), she has helped many nonprofit and cultural organizations integrate technology into their daily activities to become more efficient.

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