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1.1 What is the digital divide?

1.1 What is the digital divide?
As you have seen in previous blocks, for many technical subjects the Wikipedia entry is a good starting point for further research. So to provide a way in to the discussion in this session, I used Wikipedia to find a definition of the digital divide. When I accessed the relevant page, the first two sentences read as follows:
The digital divide refers to the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access at all. It includes the imbalance both in physical access to technology and the resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen.
Wikipedia, 2011
Yet, as you might expect, there are complications to this simple picture. For a start, the Wikipedia definition may be considered to be too wide, because it is unclear which ‘digital and information’ technologies are being referred to. On the other hand, ‘information technology’ indicates that, despite its name, the term ‘digital divide’ may encompass certain non-digital technologies. So there is a sense in which the term ‘digital divide’ itself can be considered to be too narrow.
In this part I will take the view that the basis of the digital divide is exclusion from modern ICTs: lack of access to mobile phones, or even to conventional analogue telephone networks, can be as formidable a handicap as lack of access to powerful computers and the internet.
Two digital divides
The world rarely conforms to simplistic definitions. The idea of a single digital divide may be neither useful nor accurate, as the following activity will show.
Analysing the digital divide
The digital divide is of interest to academics from many disciplines – to engineers and computer scientists, but also to sociologists, political scientists, economists, cultural theorists and others. They all have their own perspectives on the topic, and naturally this has generated an enormous amount of literature, with countless different understandings of the issue. We may have to accept that there are many different divides, all with the same outcome – unequal access to new technologies.
For example, the ICT analyst Eszter Hargittai (2003) goes even further than my definition, identifying two further digital divides:
?    between those who control the production and distribution of ICTs and their content, and those who do not
?    between those who own ICTs and their content, and those who do not.
Another commentator, the academic Bharat Mehra, defines the digital divide as ‘the troubling gap between those who use computers and the Internet and those who do not’ (Mehra et al., 2004, p. 782). His definition is somewhat similar to Wikipedia’s, but it has a judgemental element to it – that the existence of the divide is a cause for concern. This leads to a key question, and one to which I will turn next: why – if it exists at all – should the digital divide matter? One possible reason is the relationship between a nation’s digital communications resources and its wealth.
2.1 Appropriate technology
The term appropriate technology refers to technological solutions that take account of the actual cultural, political and economic circumstances of people, aiming to improve their wellbeing whilst putting as little strain as possible on their environment or finances, and causing minimal disruption to their everyday lives. There has been an increasing emphasis of late on appropriate technology in the context of poor or developing societies, because many previous well-meaning projects to transplant technologies from developed societies to less developed regions have not been very successful (see Box 2 for an example).
Box 2 Sending PCs to the developing world
Obsolete PCs from Europe and the USA are regularly sent to developing nations where they can be put to work in schools. Many of these machines fail within months and need skilled and expensive repairs. The cause of the failure is extremely simple – the machines were designed to be used in temperate climates at low temperatures, at relatively low levels of humidity and in largely dust-free, often air-conditioned offices. When they are moved to warmer, damper climates without air-conditioning, the heat, moisture, dust and microorganisms begin to attack the computer’s components, eventually resulting in complete failure. The fragility of conventional PCs in such conditions was one of the driving forces behind the design of the OLPC XO-1, which you met in Block 2 Part 2.
It is often mistakenly believed that appropriate technology means low technology (i.e. the opposite of hi-tech). Whilst many early appropriate technologies were relatively simple items such as improved wood-fuelled stoves, wind-powered water pumps and basic electric generators, there is now a turn towards appropriate high technology. For example, the Canadian charity Light Up the World Foundation provides LED light bulbs to developing countries. LED bulbs are manufactured in the Western world using advanced techniques, but are still an appropriate technology in much of the developing world since they offer greatly improved lighting at much lower cost and with much greater levels of safety than conventional kerosene lamps.
Connecting Africa
The media portrayal of Africa is often one of despair and misery; yet whilst parts of the continent remain mired in real hardship, many countries are experiencing an economic boom. An end to a number of long-standing wars, a gradual turn towards democracy and a demand for Africa’s natural resources have resulted in growth for many nations, raising people out of extreme poverty. For the first time, millions of people have the money, the opportunity and the desire to use ICTs.
However, Africa remains the least connected of all the inhabited continents. African nations generally have very low levels of access to fixed and mobile telephone connections, and to the internet. So the first challenge is actually to connect Africa’s people to one another and to the rest of the world.
Cables and satellites
Before 1962, intercontinental communications were limited and expensive. Immense lengths of copper cable had been laid on the ocean floors, but these carried relatively little data very slowly, and with a very poor-quality signal. Using them was correspondingly expensive: in the mid-1960s, a three-minute London to New York call had to be booked in advance and cost £3, at a time when the average weekly wage was just £25.
In 1962, the satellite Telstar 1 was launched. It lasted only a few months before being crippled by radiation from a US high-altitude nuclear test, and in fact satellite communications only became practical some years later with the development of geosynchronous satellites (which remain stationary over a fixed point on the Earth’s surface). Nevertheless, from this time onward satellites increasingly carried television signals across oceans, allowing sports events to be televised live and news media to broadcast up-to-the-minute information. They also carried telephone traffic: the price of international calls plummeted, even as demand soared.
Satellites continue to have an important communications role, being widely used for television and radio signals. There is also a small market for satellite telephony and satellite internet communications – for workers at sea and the military, and to serve remote areas. It is estimated that between 2009 and 2018, the worldwide market for constructing and operating communications satellites will generate nearly US$180 billion.
Despite all this, however, modern satellites carry less than 1% of the data passing between continents. They have largely been made obsolete by submarine fibre-optic cables, which carry vastly more data at much lower cost. Today, every continent except Antarctica is linked to the others by a web of cables (Figure 3), most of them laid in the last twenty years, chiefly under the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The North Atlantic cables are the oldest and busiest, since they link the world’s wealthiest regions.
View larger image
Figure 3 A map of the world’s major submarine cables
Long description
Africa is now entirely circumscribed by fibre-optic cables. In the Atlantic, huge amounts of capacity have been added by two new cables linking West Africa’s fast-growing economies with Europe. [West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa are regions of the continent that each consist of several countries. In contrast, the Republic of South Africa is one of the countries in Southern Africa.] In 2009, the 9500 km GLO-1 cable was completed. It is capable of carrying voice and data traffic between equatorial West Africa and the UK at a rate of 640 Gbps. The following year a 7000 km cable called Main One linked West Africa to Portugal, adding three times as much capacity again. As some indication of the growth in capacity, in 2011 the WACS cable between the UK and South Africa was completed; when fully activated, this will offer nearly nine times the capacity of the three years older GLO-1. Figure 4 shows the vast difference between Africa’s submarine cables in 2009 and the planned state of affairs in 2012.
Figure 4 Submarine cables serving Africa: (a) in 2009 and (b) in 2012
One of the most ambitious new cable projects is Seacom, a US$650 million 17 000 km link between Southern and East Africa and the Middle East and India. Before Seacom was laid, bandwidth in East Africa was extremely limited; many businesses could only access high-speed internet services through satellite. In 2009, a typical 1 Mbps satellite link (slower than domestic broadband in the UK) in Tanzania typically cost US$3000 per month, making internet access unaffordable for all but a wealthy elite and a handful of businesses (in 2009, Tanzania’s GDP per capita was just US$496).
2.7 Conclusion
In this session you saw how four very different countries are bridging the digital divide. You learned about the concept of appropriate technology, and applied that concept in different contexts.
You have seen from the case studies in this session that the ways in which a country chooses to use ICTs are also many and various. I will look in a little more detail at these in Session 4. In addition, Session 5 will present a further case study, guiding you to find out more information about it for yourself.
You have also learned that even the most prosperous nations may harbour digital divides within themselves. I will examine this issue in more detail in the next session.
This session should have helped you with the following learning outcomes.
?    Describe the concept of a digital divide and some of its different aspects.
?    Describe the different scales of the digital divide (local, national and global).
?    Describe approaches to technological development in a number of different countries and explain the reasons for these approaches.
?    Describe the roles of government, private industry, communities and individuals in bridging the digital divide.
?    Describe some of the social, political and economic factors influencing the digital divide.
?    Analyse examples of appropriate technology in the context of the digital divide.
Appendix A
The extract in this appendix is taken from:
Pejovic, V., Johnson, D.L., Zheleva, M., Belding, E.M., Parks, L. and van Stam, G. (2012) ‘The Bandwidth Divide: Obstacles to Efficient Broadband Adoption in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa’, International Journal of Communications, vol. 6, pp. 2467–91 [Online]. Available at http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1795/807 (Accessed 2 February 2015).
Internet connectivity is an essential factor for progress of any nation. Access to information can improve human development in areas such as education, health care, economy, and political freedom. Unfortunately, Internet access is unevenly distributed across the globe. While Internet penetration reaches staggering numbers in some areas, even basic connectivity is lacking in many developing regions. Global statistics show that in 2011, developed countries had Internet penetration higher than 73% (International Telecommunication Union [ITU], 2011). In the developing world during the same year, however, only 26% of individuals were connected to the Internet. Moreover, the variation between regions can be quite drastic. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, significantly lags even behind other developing regions; penetration rates in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Niger, and Ethiopia are less than 1% of the population.
The importance of Internet connectivity in developing regions, however, is immense. Rural areas of the developing world have few resources such as libraries, and skilled workers tend to migrate to more affluent, industrialized areas. Internet connectivity provides access to knowledge, which is crucial for social and economic development. Evidence from the fishing industry in India (Abraham, 2006) and sunflower farming in Zambia (Matthee, Mweemba, Pais, van Stam, & Rijken, 2007) shows how simple access to information can dramatically improve conditions in impoverished regions. Previous research shows that, everything else aside, access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) improves the gross domestic product of a country by about 1% (Waverman, Meschi, & Fuss, 2005). Access to ICTs also can have deep social impacts. For instance, Internet access enables the spread of communication and information, which can bring about political freedoms and strengthen human agency. It is not surprising that Internet censorship was a key point of struggle during the Arab Spring of 2010–2011. Finally, through their unique affordances, ICTs can be used to overcome social problems such as gender inequality in developing countries (Hilbert, 2011).
Internet penetration in the developing world lags behind the developed world for many reasons: lack of supporting infrastructure (roads and electricity), outdated regulatory frameworks, and affordability, to name a few (Brewer et al., 2005). However, a clear difference also exists between the developed and the developing world in the level of urbanization. In 2005 the developed world was predominantly urban, with three-quarters of its population living in cities. The much larger developing world, on the other hand, was predominantly rural. Urbanization rates are especially low in the most economically disadvantaged countries. For example, countries in the United Nations least developed group (by the HDI) are 70.5% rural (World Bank, 2011). […]
Rural Area Community Networks
Wireless networks based on WiFi technology have emerged as a viable solution for connecting previously disconnected communities in remote regions. Unlike alternatives such as fiber optics and cell phone towers, wireless networks can be built using cheap commodity hardware and do not incur an additional cost of licensing, and they allow collaborative and inclusive activities that facilitate selfmanagement and appropriation by local communities. In recent years, isolated attempts to bridge the digital divide have been made by university research groups and nongovernmental organizations (Bernardi, Buneman, & Marina, 2008; Brewer et al., 2005; Guo et al., 2007; Matthee et al., 2007; Sen, Kole, & Raman, 2006). A model that many of these projects follow is to bring wireless Internet connectivity (through satellite or other long-distance wireless links) to central points within a rural community—for example, to community centers, schools, or hospitals. This is commonly called the kiosk model, whereby citizens travel, often by foot, to these central areas to access the Internet. While clearly Internet access through this model is much better than no access at all, it is not a satisfactory end solution. In some cases, WiFi-based local networks are then spawned from the central points of connectivity to nearby regions to provide wider network coverage. The networks we analyzed in Macha, Dwesa, and Peebles Valley are constructed in this way.
Wireless Network in Macha, Zambia
Macha, Zambia […] is a typical poor rural area in Africa, with scattered homesteads, very little infrastructure, and people living a subsistence lifestyle; the primary livelihood is maize farming. Like many sub-Saharan rural communities, Macha has a concentrated central area and a large, geographically dispersed rural community with a sparse population. Clusters of homes house members of a single family and are likely separated from other clusters by 1 or more kilometers. Macha contains about 135,000 residents spread out over a 35-kilometer radius around the village center. The overall population density is 25 per square kilometer. In the middle of the community center are the facilities and housing for a mission hospital, a medical research institute, and schools.
The Macha Works organization, through the LinkNet project, has deployed a network of long distance WiFi wireless links and mesh networks that provides connectivity to about 300 community workers and visitors using satellite-based Internet. Most users access the Internet at work and through community terminals, although a few people do have WiFi connectivity in their homes. The community is connected to the Internet through a VSAT satellite connection. The satellite provides a committed download speed of 128 kbps (bursting up to 1 Mbps) and a committed upload speed of 64 kbps (bursting up to 256 kbps). The total monthly cost of the satellite connection is US$1,200 per month and is covered through government subsidies as well as through Internet vouchers sold to visitors and locals. […]
Obstacles to Efficient Usage
The obstacles to efficient Internet usage need to be understood and adopted in the design of practical solutions for Internet connectivity in rural Africa. In the course of our studies in Africa, we have identified a number of such obstacles that are caused by factors ranging from personal to governmental.
Restrictions on the Locality of Usage
Most Internet users in rural Africa are restricted to public terminals and access at school or work. Only about 10% of Internet users in the African continent access the Internet from their homes (ITU, 2011), and one can surmise that this figure is even lower for rural users. Public access comes with limited availability, greater cost, and long walking distances to points of access. We also find that only through at home access can users enjoy the Internet in a leisurely way, using advanced applications such as online social networks and blogs.
Many technical obstacles stand in the way of more prevalent at-home access in rural Africa (Surana et al., 2008). First, rural areas often lack reliable grid power. Even if the grid power is available, it is usually restricted to schools, hospitals, and community centers. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy are an attractive alternative for supplying power to rural area network deployments. However, they require substantial initial investment and planning (Bernardi et al., 2008). Long distances between households are another important obstacle for rural area connectivity. Cheap wireless technologies such as WiFi are of short range—a few hundred meters or less. Cell phone base stations, especially those that support 3G and 4G LTE communication can provide high bandwidth connectivity to wide areas. However, they are expensive and not economically viable for areas with low, seasonal-income populations. […]
Network Growth versus Limited Capacity
To offset the high cost, users in rural regions often share a single satellite connection among tens or hundreds of people. Satellite connectivity is already associated with communication delay and throughput significantly lower than what can be provided with fiber optics. When a large number of users access the same satellite link, a very small amount of bandwidth is allocated to a single user. Moreover, a single satellite can be shared over multiple locations through WiFi mesh networks. The performance of these networks degrades with the number of network links that packets have to traverse on the way from the satellite gateway to the end user. This further limits link quality when sharing a single Internet connection in rural areas.
Additionally, users in remote regions are more likely to experience suboptimal online performance because of the way Internet applications are designed. The Internet is still largely centralized, and many popular applications such as Facebook are hosted in the developed world (Wittie et al., 2010). Rural areas of the developing world are located far from data centers and servers that host popular websites. Even if the same quality of connectivity is to be provided worldwide, these remote locations will experience lag due to their physical distance from the application servers. Our network trace analysis in Macha reveals that the round-trip time of a network packet sent from the village, via the satellite link, to an application server and then back the same way can often exceed tens of seconds. Further, current centralized access models are extremely inefficient for local communication, which is dominant in rural Africa. In the current model, each instant message and voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) call has to traverse a slow satellite link twice: once on the way from the sender to the central application server in the developed world and once on the way back to the receiver located in the same village as the sender. In our interviews, common complaints were a failure of instant messaging and dropped calls in VoIP applications, even when the communication is local.
Finally, while in the developed world, dynamic ICT markets push service providers to upgrade the infrastructure and constantly increase broadband speeds, this is not the case in economically unattractive rural developing regions. At the same time, the World Wide Web is changing. From 1995 to 2010, the size of the average Web page has grown 36 times (Charzinski, 2010); the Internet evolved from a strictly textual form into a media rich-environment with complex online applications. Connectivity in rural areas has yet to catch up with this high growth, and unless the rate of bandwidth expansion increases faster than the rate of Web growth, predictions are that access in developing regions will effectively become worse than it is today (Chen, 2011). […]
In reading about rural internet connectivity, one of our researchers has found what looks to be a useful academic paper entitled ‘The Bandwidth Divide: Obstacles to Efficient Broadband Adoption in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa’ (Pejovic et al., 2012), part of which is reproduced in Appendix A [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] of this EMA. The article itself is too long and technical for a general readership, but the ideas are of interest to NOW UK supporters.
Read the extract in Appendix A and prepare a short article for the supporters’ magazine entitled ‘The rural digital divide: Asia vs sub-Saharan Africa’ covering the following aspects:
?    i.Introduction
?    ii.An explanation of what is meant by the terms; the IEEE Wi-Fi standards, upload speeds, and Mbps.
?    iii.A comparison of the differences in the digital divide and energy use in Nepal and Zambia using information obtained from the Wolfram|Alpha website (see Activity 34 in Block 6 Part 1 for more on Wolfram|Alpha). Complete and include Table 1 (below) as your answer.
Table 1: comparison of aspects of the digital divide in Nepal and Zambia
Statistic    Nepal    Zambia
Percentage of population using the internet
Average broadband upload speed
Number of languages spoken by at least 1% of the population
Number of secure internet servers
Electricity generated per year
?    iv.A discussion of the technical barriers to bridging the digital divide that exist in countries in rural sub-Saharan Africa, such as Zambia, compared to Nepal. Use your completed table above and the Appendix A excerpt as your main non-TU100 sources for this section of your report.
?    v.A discussion of some of the social barriers to bridging the digital divide that exist in countries in rural sub-Saharan Africa, such as Zambia, compared to Nepal.
?    vi.Conclusion
Your answer to Part 1 of Task 1 must be no more than 750 words in total, with around 150 words for part (ii) and 250 words each for parts (iv) and (v). The completed Table 1 is supporting evidence and so it will not be counted as part of the word limit.
Block 6 Part 1 of TU100 includes a lot of material relevant to completing this task, and some other parts of the module are also relevant. The search facility on the module website will help you in researching your answer. Use your completed table above and the Appendix A excerpt as your main non-TU100 sources for your report.
You must clearly reference any non-TU100 sources, including the article in Appendix A.

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