Beyond a trend: Understanding the impact of the internet on the digital divide
Steve Jobs was right when he said that people, sooner or later, will be compelled to connect to the internet in one way or another. True enough, the internet is valued as a technological breakthrough as remarkable as the revered telephone. In fact, the United Nations has declared internet access as a basic human right.
A study commissioned by the USAID noted that internet access today is beyond being just a trend that fades over time. It is now deemed a catalyst for global change with the potential to address social challenges such as women empowerment, education, transparent governance and public health. Over the years, the government, private organizations, and other industry stakeholders gather to identify disruptive technologies and activities that address social challenges through internet access.
Changing the world through connectivity
In 2013, Founder and CEO of Samasource, Lela Jenah spoke before an audience detailing the impact of the digital services Samasource has provided for the women and youth. “Sama” which means equal, caters to the untapped potential of the world’s poor people, especially the disenfranchised sector. The program connects women and youth to different training programs and employment that can contribute to their economic growth.
In the learning avenue, the Australian Government initiated the Digital Education Revolution which visualized a digital learning experience for its youth. The initiative recognized the need to create sophisticated access of information through internet access. The program has been running since 2008 and has dramatically changed the education system in the country.
Unfortunately, the promise of economic development through digital inclusion is hardly felt in a global context.
In a global population of almost seven billion recorded in 2015, only about 3.1 billion people were connected to the internet. Sadly, connectivity is not quite universal because up until this day, almost four billion people remain unconnected.
The results of the study on the State of Connectivity 2015: A Report on Global Internet Access by social media giant Facebook, aim to understand and address the challenges that hinder global connectivity. The digital divide is evident in the least developed countries, according to the study, where only 10 percent are connected. It is also particularly prevalent in developing countries. According to the report, nearly 90 percent of the unconnected population belong to South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa.
However, connectivity is not the problem. The real challenge lies in regulation, sustainability of low-income consumers to spend for connectivity and cultural acceptance. Governments are encouraged to align their policies toward the same goal of global connectivity.
While the unconnected countries face these challenges, countries that have widely adopted internet connectivity are also pressed with challenges, particularly with privacy. According to thePrivacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC), when people are online they provide basic information in order to access certain services, whether on social media, simple browsing and sending emails.
“Well, the truth is that in the world of internet, there is actually buried little privacy, anyway, and to the extent that the information is used responsibly to deal with crime and other things, I don’t have, personally, a big problem with it. I haven’t seen much way of an abuse and it’s just the people’s concern that they want their privacy respected,” answered 5BARz Internationalchairman, Gil Amelio when asked about privacy in today’s connected world.
A connected world provides a wealth of opportunities in business, finance, education, and health. It also allows for countless innovations and more avenues for self-expression. There will be more room for growth, if and only when barriers that hinder widespread public internet access are eliminated.