9.6. Digital Divide

In addition to privacy and security, there are some additional factors to consider when using technology. The digital divide, censorship, and work-life balance are all social impacts of using technology.

As the internet and its applications continue to permeate our world, the concern around access grows. The digital divide is the separation between those who have access to global networks and those who do not. The digital divide can occur between countries, regions, or even neighbourhoods. In many North American cities, there are pockets with little or no Internet access, while just a few miles away high-speed broadband is common.  In Canada, the geographic disparity is prevalent.

According to Canada’s Public Policy Forum (June 2014) the territories within Northern Canada have been technologically divided compared to the rest of the country. This is largely due to economic and geographical obstacles creating challenges to having high speed internet connections. Low digital literacy rates, lack of access to technology, and the distance and sparsely populated towns have all contributed to these challenges (Canada’s Public Policy Forum, 2014).  Furthermore, the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks (CENGN) reports that 30% of Canada’s economy is represented by rural and remote communities. Meanwhile, only 46% of rural households have access to high-speed internet, creating barriers in services such as e-learning, e-health, and staying connected (CENGN, 2021)

A New Understanding of the Digital Divide

In 2006, web-usability consultant Jakob Nielsen wrote an article that got to the heart of our understanding of this problem. In his article, he breaks the digital divide up into three stages: the economic divide, the usability divide, and the empowerment divide (Nielsen, 2006).

Economic divide This is what many call the digital divide. The economic divide is the idea that some people can afford to have a computer and Internet access while others cannot.
Usability divide Many people lack the digital literacy skills required to use technology. For those who can use a computer, accessing all the benefits of having one can sometimes be beyond their understanding.
Empowerment divide Empowerment is the most difficult to solve. It is concerned with how we use technology to empower ourselves. Some users do not understand the power that digital technologies can give them. Many people will limit what they can do online by accepting the basic, default settings of their computer and not work to understand how they can truly be empowered.

Understanding the digital divide using these three stages provides a more nuanced view of how we can work to alleviate it. More work needs to be done to address the second and third stages of the digital divide for a more holistic solution.

Refining the Digital Divide

The Miniwatts Marketing Group, host of Internet World Stats sought in 2018 to further clarify the meaning of the digital divide by acknowledging that the divide is more than just who does or does not have access to the Internet. The group sees the following concerns.

Social mobility.  Lack of computer education works to the disadvantage of children with lower socioeconomic status.
Democracy. Greater Internet use can lead to healthier democracies, especially in election participation.
Economic growth. Greater Internet use in developing countries could provide a shortcut to economic advancement. Using the latest technology could give companies in these countries a competitive advantage (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2018).

Bridging the Digital Divide in Canada

So, what can be done to help alleviate the digital divide in Canada? Like many other countries, Canada continues to propose and implement various solutions to close the digital gap among the population.  Here are a few of them:

  • Broadband as a basic service –  In December 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (the Canadian federal regulating agency for broadcasting and communications) ruled that broadband internet is a basic service. This means that in addition to telephone services, access to broadband internet at a minimum speed is an essential service broadcast providers must offer; however, the pricing of access to the internet is still being addressed.
  • Connecting Canadians – is a government-run program to improve broadband network access. According to the plan, all Canadians will have access with a minimum quality of 5 mbps download speed and 1 Mbps upload speed.
  • Public access – providing access in public locations such as libraries.
  • Improve digital literacy – improving digital literacy among Canadians begins with educating children on using technology efficiently and safely.

Digital Literacy Programs

  • Through Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada, the Canadian federal government has committed $17.6 million to support learning opportunities for Canadians in digital literacy under the Digital Literacy Exchange Program.
  • Media Smarts , Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, also provides training programs for Canadian educators to support learning opportunities for youth.

Chapter 11: Globalization and the Digital Divide” from Information Systems for Business and Beyond (2019) by David Bourgeois is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Information Systems for Business and Beyond Copyright © 2022 by Shauna Roch; James Fowler; Barbara Smith; and David Bourgeois is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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