RS2: North Korea

North Korea’s digital divide: Online elites, isolated masses

North Korea is a very special case for the digital divide. Unlike its neighbor, China, North Korea is one of the most censored and sheltered countries in the world, but they are “ever so cautiously going online,” (para. 1) North Korea is allowing for people to “use online dictionaries and text each other on their smart phones,” (para. 2) but just not through the actual Internet / World Wide Web, but through “a tightly sealed intranet of the sort a medium-sized company might use for its employees.” (para. 3) The Digital Divide within North Korea consists of a “two-tiered system where the trusted elite can surf the Internet with relative freedom while the masses are kept inside the national intranet.” (para. 5) Technology wise North Korea is still super behind, in that the percentage of population holding computers and phones, a small, richer population is able to obtain smartphones and rip off ipads, while others in order to access the intranet have to go to a place known as the knowledge sector which is ”North Korea’s biggest e-library, with more than 3,000 terminals where factory workers participate in tele-learning, and university students do research” (para. 9) Whenever accessing the Intranet or Kwangmyong (which has roughly 168 different websites during publishing of article) people use Naenara browser which is “a modified version of FireFox.” (para. 17) This allows them to stay on their enclosed network. Another restriction is that all of the computers, don’t know about phones, run a specific Operating System Red Star which has “a Mac Design, right down to the ‘spinning beach ball’ wait icon,” (para. 20) but has sinister drawbacks. Their OS has many restrictions that allow the North Korean government to spy and basically see everything that is happening on the computer by having “a tracer viewer that takes regular screenshots of what is being displayed.” (para. 24) With North Korea’s population roughly around 25 million, “there are an estimated 2.5-3 million mobile phones in North Korea,” (para. 33) something that has just recently started booming. Kim Jong Un has really been pushing for introducing mobile telecommunications and made “the spread of mobile phones is one of the biggest success stories [for] Kim Jong Un.” (para 34) Slowly North Korea is gaining a censored and secluded internet allowing the people inside the country to be more connected to each other.


RS2: China

Behind the great firewall, China’s internet is thriving – even in rural areas

Meng Jing and Sarah Dai’s article reports on China’s digital divide that has caused the country’s internet penetration rate to settle at “55.8 [percent]” (para. 8). The internet penetration rate, a percentage of the population that uses the internet, illustrates that nearly half of China’s population lacks internet access. These divisions can be attributed to the split in China between urban and rural citizens. While the urban Chinese “see the internet as part of their daily life” (para. 7), rural citizens have only recently begun to obtain access to the internet for use in their lives. In 2015, Beijing revealed its “Internet Plus strategy” (para. 10), which aimed to develop e-commerce and internet banking which later received “strong government support” (para. 10). As a result, China was able to push out changes that allowed an additional “7.93 million people” from rural China to become internet users in 2017 (para. 6). However, this number only represents a small portion of China’s rural areas because there still exist “huge untapped opportunities for the country’s internet companies” (para. 14). While “73 [percent] of China’s urban population” already has consistent internet access (para. 13), large companies like Alibaba and have started “setting up service [centers]” to help balance the numbers (para. 18). These centers aim to advertise their online businesses and train locals to help teach “users who have zero knowledge of online shopping” (para. 18). Although these companies seek profits, as seen in their desired expansion toward countries like “India and Indonesia” (para. 19), their efforts have managed to help some rural areas become familiar with technology and the internet. In fact, the article includes anecdotes from rural residents that reveal how more people may become interested in obtaining internet access. Hu Guizhi, a rural farmer, expresses her satisfaction with the internet through her ability to conveniently send “red packets,” or small gifts of money, to friends and family, and “pay utility bills with just a touch,” showing that the internet can even integrate smoothly into the lives of the more traditional Chinese (para. 2).

RS2: India

Bridging the deep digital divide in India

The digital divide in India is evident and can be defined in two ways. First, the more obvious of the two, is the technological inequity between rural and urban India. Seventeen percent of rural India has access the internet whereas 60% of those in urban areas can access the internet. The second way technology divides the nation is through gender. The article states that “women only make up for 29% of India’s internet users” (para. 1). Regardless of which groups are on what side of the digital divide, there is a problem that needs to be fixed because the divide “prohibits marginalized communities from experiencing the benefits of digital speech and weakens their ability to contribute to India’s democracy” (para. 1).

The article goes on to list the few futile attempts India’s government has made to rectify the obvious digital divide. Initiatives like the India Digital program, which aimed to make government services digitally available nationwide, and the Public Internet Access program which attempted to facilitate financial services online, appeared helpful, but in reality were not the best ways of reaching out to those lacking internet. Throughout the years the peripheral parts of India have slowly been given internet access but not at the rates that India’s government has wanted. This greater internet access, however small, has given areas of India a means to starting political movements across the country. Internet tools such as “live-streaming allows marginalized communities to broadcast uncensored versions of their lives and is a means of circumventing conventional narratives in the media” (para. 4). Online private initiatives like Dalit Camera, a YouTube channel that tells stories about the historically oppressed member of the Dalit community, have also been successful in using “media to empower minority voices” (para. 7). Although this channel was removed in 2017 because of claims of copyright infringement, it still served as a tool to spread stories that may have otherwise never been told. In fact, one student used the YouTube platform to discuss the “discriminatory behavior towards lower caste students” (para. 7) by a faculty member. The video was meant to show how discrimination from castes still existed despite the 1989 Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act (prohibiting suppression from castes). Overall, minority communities in India, and everywhere, “can raise concerns, voice their opinions and freely participate in democratic debate” (para. 9) through the internet.

RS2: Oz

Australia’s digital divide is not going away

In Australia, the digital divide doesn’t seem like it’ll be narrowed anytime soon. According to The Conversation’s Mai Lam, “Almost 2.6 million Australians, according to these ABS figures, do not use the internet. Nearly 1.3 million households are not connected” (para. 4). The numbers sourced from ABS, the Australian Bureau of Statistics also tell a tale of various factors affecting internet access for Australians. Alas, the digital divide is a problem far beyond America’s borders.

There are various factors affecting Australia’s digital divide. Lam claims that age is one, stating that “while more than nine in ten people aged between 15 to 54 are internet users, the number drops to eight in ten of those aged 55-64 years, and to under six in ten of those over 65 years” (para. 5). ABS numbers also indicate that compared to those with jobs, the unemployed are much less connected to the internet. The same can be said for income, whereas “96.9% of the highest quintile (bracket representing one fifth of the sample) income households have access, whereas only 67.4% of the lowest quintile have access” (para. 10). What these numbers are saying is that the benefits offered by internet access aren’t being reaped by the Australians that have the most to gain from them.

The Australians that sit on the good side of the digital divide are doing more online, too. Unsurprisingly, “better-off Australians appear to be doing more online. Compared to the general population their uses of online banking and shopping, education and health services are higher. They are connected to the internet with multiple devices, with an average of 7.2 devices at home, compared to 4.4 in the lowest income quintile” (para. 11). Those with more access are taking advantage of it, creating a digital divide in yet another country that leaves many at a disadvantage. This can manifest itself in multiple ways. Education is one. In Lam’s eyes, “the increasingly central role of the internet in educational activities, the fact that the number of family households without access has not fallen since 2014-15 is concerning” (para. 15).

The two main factors keeping this digital divide in place are affordability and geographical location. The 2018 ABS data did not specify why certain households didn’t have internet access, but the 2015 data set “revealed cost was a factor keeping 198,600 households offline. Unsurprisingly, 148,200 of these households were from the two lowest income quintiles” (para. 14). Geography is influencing Australia’s digital divide too. The gap between the major cities and the bush has not narrowed over time – 87.9% of those living in major cities have internet access at home, 82.7% in inner regional, 80.7% in outer regional and 77.1% in remote areas…this survey did not include remote Indigenous communities, where the evidence suggests that internet access is usually very poor” (para. 12). It appears that Australia’s divide is only growing.

RS2: India

How the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ is bridging the digital divide

In the article, “How the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ is bridging the digital divide,” Naomi Canton describes the digital divides that exist within India as well as the steps being taken to close them. Bangalore, also known as the “Silicon Valley of India,” has a reputation for being the most high-tech city in India. Being home to some of the world’s largest software companies, Bangalore is a hub for technological entrepreneurship and development, however, there is a hidden irony that not many people are aware of: a large percentage of Bangalore’s citizens have never used the internet before (para. 2). This shows that not only is there a digital divide between the different parts of India, there are also many digital sub-divides within the cities themselves. To put the crisis into perspective, “Internet penetration across the entire population is still below 10 percent,” whereas, “in the UK and U.S. it is 80 percent” (para. 3). One of the biggest hurdles that India faces in spreading internet technology is convincing people of its necessity. “One thing is the cost of buying a computer or laptop; another is that broadband infrastructure is not as ubiquitous in India as the U.S. and it’s costly for the common man. Paying a monthly data fee is also costly and they don’t appreciate how it can benefit them,” says Ankush Bagotra, chairman of ISOC’s (Internet Society) Bangalore chapter (para. 13). However, efforts by institutions like ISOC have convinced many of the promising nature of internet technology. They’ve helped hundreds of people in Bangalore gain access to the internet as well as a whole host of new training resources. For example, “Mr Kemperaj from Hennur in north Bangalore specializes in making lamp shades and pillow cases. He used to travel more than 70 km every day to get a sample of his work approved by his vendor. Now he sits in front of a computer, sends the photos by e-mail and surfs the Net to research new designs and discover new sales routes such as eBay” (para. 9). While programs such as this are greatly beneficial, it’s practically impossible for them to reach the more rural areas of India that don’t have a wired connection to the internet. This is an issue Raghavendra Sathyanarayana, a wireless communications engineer, wishes to solve. He registered a company, Cramnet, “which he hopes will empower Indians trapped on the wrong side of the digital divide. He plans to use unused spectrum to provide wireless internet free of charge to the digitally disenfranchised in India” (para 17). Other organizations such as DEF (Digital Empowerment Foundation) have also been actively trying to spread wireless technology across the rural parts of India. Canton concludes the article by addressing a major concern many Indians have about Internet technology: “Should efforts instead be made to provide clean water and electricity first” rather than investing so much time and money into something like the internet (para. 25)? Although this is a valid concern, people like Osama Manzar, founder of DEF, claim that “the entire country could leapfrog the developmental cycle if she were to forget about racing for the industrial revolution and aspire for an information revolution instead” (para. 21).

RS2: The Philippines

Bridging the digital divide: Tech4ED brings new tech closer to Filipinos

The Philippine government is working to help bridge the digital divide in the Philippines through a program called “Tech4ED” that aims to “set up community centers around the country where out-of-school youth, senior citizens, housewives, and other underserves sectors of society can have access to online government services and learning modules for skills development, digital literacy, and non-formal education” (para. 6). Through Tech4ED, students and graduates are able to pick up new skills and are slowly becoming more digitally literate (para. 7). Other beneficiaries such as housewives and mothers are able to develop relevant and useful skills that will hopefully help them learn how to “set up and manage a small business” (para. 7).

As of March 2017, over 1,300 Tech4ED centers have been established all over the country (para. 8) and serve nearly 55,000 Filipinos who are currently enrolled in the platform. Of the 55,000, 58% are women, and 64% are in below the age of 30 (para. 9).

The way the Tech4ED programs are set up to teach its members are through a mix of guided tutorials and self-paced modules, according to Tech4ED project manager Maria Teresa Camba (para. 12). One important skill utilized in these practices is an English language course, which combines audio and video lessons which are then followed by students going through modules on their own, accomplishing a variety of exercises through equipment provided for them (para. 11). Most members choose to learn practical skills that they can use to attain jobs, such as working with computers and cellphones, but overall, members are interested in honing their communication skills, both in Tagalog (native language) and English, learning basic computer skills, and managing money (para. 10).

Many resident Filipinos, particularly senior citizens, are wary and scared to face a very unfamiliar challenge. As program manager Camba, who was interviewed by author Katerina Francisco, put it, “takot sila kasi zero background talaga sila” (they were scared, because they had zero background on using these things). To help encourage them and others who may have hesitations to partake in the program, Tech4ED has been taken to sharing success stories of people recounting how they first got involved with the program and what “impact their newfound digital skills has had on their lives” (para. 22). These success stories have encouraged more people to join and retain people who have benefited from the program previously.

RS2: Singapore

Conceptualizing and testing a social cognitive model of the digital divide

In the article, “Conceptualizing and testing a social cognitive model of the digital divide,” researchers Wei, Teo, Chan, and Tan (2011) described a quantitative study they conducted on the presence and extent of the digital divide in Singapore. Wei et al. (2011) wanted to determine, through their research, whether their three-level model of the digital divide was supported empirically among students in Singapore. The authors also stated their interest in examining whether Singapore’s efforts to place computers in classrooms, libraries, and other kinds of public places had any influence on the divide, given that “increasing public access to computers has often been deemed the holy grail of reducing the digital divide” (170). The study that Wei et al. (2011) undertook involved a survey of a purposive sample of 4,063 secondary school students from 26 schools that had information technology (IT) as part of their curriculum. The study’s outcome measure was computer self-efficacy (CSE), which Wei et al. (2011), drawing on the work of Albert Bandura, defined as “the belief in one’s capability to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations,” specifically with regard to IT use (172). Wei et al. (2011) students’ CSE scores and IT learning outcomes with regard to access to a computer at home, use of home and school computers, gender, and grades at school. The results of the study, according to Wei et al. (2011), supported their three-level digital divide model, which frames the digital divide as a phenomenon that does not only occur due to different levels of access to technology, but also relies on social relationships and individual cognitions. The first level of this divide was framed by Wei et al. (2011) as the divide in levels of access, which, for the students in the study, was whether they had a home computer, while the second level was the degree of digital capability. Wei et al. (2011) found a relationship between these levels in the results, noting that “students without home computers had lower CSE even when they had IT access in schools” (180). In turn, the digital capability divide related to a digital outcome divide, which Wei et al. (2011) operationalized as learning outcomes. Social and cognitive influences on the digital capability and outcome levels for students were also found in the study. Wei et al. (2011) noted, for example, that access to a computer at home “has a stronger impact on the CSE of female students compared to male students,” while using a computer at home to play games developed “intrinsic motivation,” which allowed them to “gain much in CSE compared to students using home computers for utilitarian purposes” only, like homework (182). The large influence of home computer access on the students’ learning outcomes and CSE in the study support the contention made by Wei et al. (2011) that IT at school combined with adequate funding is helpful for closing the digital divide, but that “it is important to have both home and school computing access” (182).