The Digital Divide
Over the past few years, society's dependence on computer technology has increased dramatically. The ability to communicate via e-mail and to access the Internet has become an essential part of every day life for many Americans. The U.S. Department of Commerce says that over half of U.S. households were reported to have Internet access in the year 2000. This means that the other half lack access to the Internet and/or the technological skills to use it. According to a February 2004 Nielsen/NetRatings Survey, 204.3 million people in the United States have access to the Internet. That is more than two thirds of the total U.S. population. The Report also finds that Internet access for women between the age of 35 and 54 was 81.7% while 80.2% of men had access in the same age group. The 24-34 age category lists 77% of women had Internet access while 75% of men had access to the Internet.
Numerous recent reports indicate similar percentages for Canada. In addition at least 76% of Canadian households with Internet connectivity now have broadband connections. The U.S. is behind with approximately 60% of connected households with broadband. Many U.S. households still lack access to the Internet, efficient high-speed connectivity, and/or technological skills to use it. The term digital divide has come to represent this disparity between the Information Age "haves" and "have-nots."
This gap is of growing social concern. Rural communities, minority households, low-income families, and people with disabilities do not have the same Internet access as the more advantaged. In terms of education, the quantity and quality of computers and web connections in schools varies greatly across demographic regions. Furthermore, it is not enough to have the necessary hardware; teachers must have the training to use the technology and the understanding of it to enhance student learning. Programs such as the federally supported E-Rate Program, established in 1996, are responding to these inequalities within schools and libraries by providing financial discounts to needy schools.
From a global perspective, the digital divide illustrates an additional challenge that developing nations must face as they make their way into the international community. Without the necessary telecommunication infrastructures to support Internet access, emerging countries are at a serious disadvantage. Only 16 percent of the world's population utilizes 90 percent of its Internet host computers- clear evidence of this disparity. Indeed, the entire continent of Africa has fewer Internet connections than New York City. International organizations are making the technological gap between countries a top priority. The turn of the millennium saw the creation of the Digital Opportunity Task force (DOT force), an initiative designed to expand global access to computer technology. Similarly, in 2001, the UN's Task Force on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) was established to confront the digital divide and bridge the gap between nations.
The digital divide brings to light the serious impact that computer technology has on society, both domestic and global. It is an issue that the world will undoubtedly continue to address throughout the 21st century and into the next.