RS 2: Keynsham, England

How A British telecoms startup is bridging UK’s rural digital divide

In the small rural town of Keynsham, England, you wouldn’t expect to find internet speeds faster than in most cities. Internet providers often leave these types of communities on their own due to the low profitability of sparsely populated areas. However, a local telecommunications company is proving that bringing high speed internet to these areas is entirely feasible. Mark Scott’s article “How A British telecoms startup is bridging UK’s rural digital divide” (Politico, 2018) takes a look at how TrueSpeed’s chief executive Evan Wienburg plans to bring fast internet to England’s countryside. Wienburg’s company is still relatively small. However, it’s quickly growing, and has already “secured £75 million last summer… to roll out his network to roughly 75,000 mostly rural households” (7). Their success can be easily explained by the fact that TrueSpeed is the only company utilizing fiber optic cables to deliver blistering speeds to the area at affordable rates. Scott goes on to illustrate how welcome of a change this is. In rural areas of the EU, “[o]nly 40 percent of people… have access to high-speed broadband” (6). Without access to high speed internet, rural areas are forced to face isolation and slow economies. Wienburg recounts finding the inspiration to solve this problem; compared to his experiences in the U.S., internet connectivity was a major issue. Determined to fix this, Wienburg sought the help of investors and began running the fiber optic cables along existing electricity poles. In the company’s first city, the TrueSpeed’s efforts have already made a significant difference, with “coverage now reach[ing] almost 70 percent of households” (17). The network is already significantly faster than the average internet speed in London and can be sped up to five times its current rate. As word continues to spread about TrueSpeed’s endeavors, the company will be able to expand and help close the gap in internet connectivity. TrueSpeed isn’t the only small company to bring internet to the EU’s rural areas. While large internet providers are planning to eventually provide speeds comparable to those of TrueSpeed to their customers, these small companies play an important role in connecting Europe’s countryside to the world.

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RS 2: North Korea

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

For North Korea’s citizens, access to the World Wide Web is becoming more and more of a possibility — but only if you’re part of the country’s elite. In “North Korea’s digital divide: Online elites, isolated masses,” Eric Talmadge dissects North Korea’s strict internet regulation and the resulting chasm created within its society (The Chicago Tribune, 2017). According to Talmadge, North Korea is increasingly normalizing online activity among its residents. However, this activity is restricted to a “tightly sealed intranet,” where a user’s privacy is nonexistent, and the global Internet is unreachable (3). In theory, a more plugged in society goes against the country’s tight regime. Still, Talmadge notes that it’s not without its benefits for North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, who is able to wield this technology to exert greater “social and political control” and inflict cyber-attacks on other nations (5). As a result, Talmadge says North Korea shifted gears, allowing a limited number of trusted officials and individuals to access the Internet as they desire, while the majority of the country is confined to the nation’s intranet, walled off and isolated from the rest of the globe. On “Kwangmyong,” the national intranet network, Talmadge says users are able to browse sites through the “Naenara” browser, although only a total of 168 are actually housed on the network. According to Talmadge, everything on Kwangmyong is filtered, created and curated by the country’s government, with the exception of some approved external information collected from the global Internet. Even compared to other “information-wary” countries, Talmadge notes that North Korea is still considered extreme (18). To illustrate, Talmadge describes surveillance measures, such as watermarking downloaded items and screenshotting users’ screens, implemented with “Red Star,” the operating system North Korean computers run on. According to Recorded Future, a “U.S.-based cyber threat intelligence company,” and Team Cymru, a “non-profit Internet security group,” a small portion of North Koreans actively engage with the Internet and, subsequently, the world at large (44). Citing the FBI and cybersecurity experts, Talmadge points out some of these elite internet users’ roles in notable cyberattacks by North Korea, highlighting how the country has used technology to its advantage as well as the potential dangers such weaponry can possess. Despite government restrictions on the Internet for most of North Korea, Pak Sung Jin, a 30-year-old postgraduate and North Korean scholar, says he views the country’s regulation as a necessary form of protection in order to “shield the masses from aggressive propaganda” (54).

RS 2: Pakistan

Bridging Digital Divide in Pakistan

According to Yaseen Chaudhary, a news reporter, the country of Pakistan is not only experiencing a digital divide but also a gender digital divide. Chaudhary wrote an article in ProPakistani titled “Bridging Digital Divide in Pakistan” in February of 2011 discussing the many aspects of the divide. In this article it is mentioned that the previous decade in Pakistan has been noted to have been a revolutionary one in terms of information and technology. In the past decade broadband Internet services as well as cell phones have replaced the use of Internet cards and landlines. Though these advances have taken place in bigger cities, a big portion of Pakistan’s citizens that live in “rural areas are still greatly devoid of this phenomenon.” The Internet is noted to be a tool that can alter social condition, which is why the digital divide is taken very seriously. Since the digital divide is a serious matter the USF: Universal Service Fund; a group founded by the government of Pakistan, promotes the increase of telecommunication services in underserved areas throughout Pakistan. Some objectives of the USF include: “bringing the focus of telecom operators toward the rural population as well as increasing the level of telecom penetration in rural areas by the fair use of the funds.” Another objective includes improving the overall broadband penetration in the country as a whole. Not only is Pakistan faced with a digital divide among their people, but they are also faced with a “Gender Digital divide”, this is where girls do not know how to use a cell phone and a computer. Steps at trying to bridge the digital divide and gender digital divide in Pakistan include: A survey of each district and village of the country in order to access the level of the dilemma. Pakistan has also been trying to provide support and the necessary tools to equip the low-income citizens. Another effort includes providing the public with clear goals and direction for the project. These efforts listed are only a few measures that have been made in trying to bridge the gap. The main goal in this bridging process it to allow the flow of “knowledge to every corner of the country and uplift the standards of the poor classes of [the] country and allow for a better functioning economy.”

RS 2: China

Documenting China’s Digital Divide

Unlike cases in the United States, the main digital divide in China is between urban and rural communities. The Rural Education Action Program estimates that around 80% of urban students can access the internet from their household while only 5% of rural households can access the internet. This number is so large that many rural students and their families decide to migrate to the larger cities because there is no hope for improvement in their small communities. Chinese policy makers have done a good job of providing physical resources to rural schools but fail to provide the proper education as teachers in the rural schools do not know how to operate the software as well as urbans teacher do. Around 80% of rural schools have access to computers, but only 40% have educational software for their students to use. While there are computers for these students to use, they have no way to learn how and therefore are forced to migrate, most of the time without their families, to create better opportunities for themselves. The REAP states that migration itself doesn’t bridge the digital divide in China. The gap narrows only when migrant families enroll their children in urban schools. It is depressing to see that the Chinese policy makers have not been able to bridge the gap through just supplying computers. They have been lazy in implementing these computers and proper teaching, and therefore have not been able to improve the lives of rural families. If the Chinese want to solve their overpopulation problems in their large cities, one way to do this is to improve the opportunities of rural families. By providing proper computer education to rural Chinese schools they would eliminate a large number of migrant families and bridge the digital divide.

RS 2: South Africa

The Digital Divide – Where are we now?

Keith Matthews’ article “The Digital Divide – Where are we now?” opens up with Matthews bringing up how from an observational standpoint, it looks like “humanity has bridged the digital divide”. However, almost immediately Matthews goes onto explain how perceptions aren’t reality, and asks a rhetorical question regarding if the digital divide is actually being conquered. Matthews article brings up 3 specific points regarding the Digital Divide in South Africa: The digital divide growth with the rise of new tech, the emergence of new types of divides, and internet access as a human right. First, Matthews revisits the notion of how technology, especially “mobile broadband changed the way we work and play forever, but we have not yet overcome the notion of a digital divide”. He builds on that notion by providing a few statistics. For example, “only 25% of South Africans in the Eastern Cape’s rural communities use the Internet, compared with over 75% in Gauteng and Cape Town” (Matthews). This statistic is highlighted by an observation made by the World Economic Forum that “polarization of societies and growth in income divides can be attributed to the growth of technology and a digital divide” (Matthews). This essentially means that many jobs are being taken over by new technological advances, such as Artificial intelligence, which, according to the article will “create a market worth over $35 billion by 2025” (Matthews). The article then moves into issues regarding how emerging technologies can lead to new types of digital divides. The segment opens up with a statistic from the World Wide Worx and Dark Fibre Africa study that clearly shows the positive correlation between monthly income and internet penetration, where the lowest income bracket (~$177/month) is under 30%. Matthews calls for “roll-out of technological infrastructure in underserved areas” noting that in the US “nearly 75 percent of families with lower salaries today having access to high-speed connectivity, up from 46 percent in 2013.” One type of digital divide arising from these new technologies is a cyber security divide. People with lower incomes who utilize the internet, could be putting their security at a large risk. “Technology users in developed nations with higher disposable incomes can afford more security applications and solutions” (Matthews). Which leads into Matthews last point: “the UN’s attempts to classify Internet access as a fundamental human right. A 2016 resolution by the UN Human Rights Council stated its condemnation for countries that take away or disrupt citizens’ Internet access” (Matthews). However, while internet access is a fundamental right, it also comes with other benefits. “According to the World Economic Forum (2014), each additional 10% of Internet penetration can lead to a 1.2% increase in per capita GDP growth in emerging economies” (Matthews). Matthews then closes the article by reminding readers about the obstacles those who don’t have access go through, as well as encouraging us to help close the divide, while being cognizant of new divides arising.

RS 2: Bangalore

How the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ Is Bridging the Digital Divide

In a CNN article written by Naomi Canton, she describes how the city of Bangalore, India, attempts to bridge the digital divide. Canton begins her article by explaining how large India’s population is. Their immense population of 1.21 billion people consists of over 800 million Indians dwell in rural cities, while below 400 million people live in urban locations (1). The city of Bangalore is globally known for its innovations and software companies, however, many of Bangalore locals have yet to access the Internet (2). Many of these low-income families may never get the chance to access a computer. Canton explains that India holds almost the highest number of active Facebook users. She states that “according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Internet penetration across the entire population is still below 10 percent” (3). While many native Indians actively use the Internet, there is still a massive number of people who are excluded from this lifestyle. Canton also elaborates on how IAMAI’s research has determined that 20 percent of Indians who live in urban areas are associated with one another, and only three percent of Indians from rural areas are connected. Canton states that, as claimed by consulting firm Maple croft, “India is among the worst performing countries in the world for digital inclusion” (5). Since the population of India is so large, only a small percent of the country is able to access the Internet. Recently, it has been attempted to bridge India’s digital divide. One attempt is through the Internet Society (ISOC) which teaches Indians how to use the Internet. Canton gives an example of a man named Mr. Kemperaj who is from the northern area in Bangalore who creates pillow cases and lamp shades for a living. Canton expresses that “he used to travel more than 70 km every day to get a sample of his work approved by his vendor” (7). Now, with the usage of Internet, he is able to use the computer in order to send pictures via email while also searching for new innovations on the Internet. In addition, he is able to sell products and beware of coexisting competition. One of his newest sales routes is eBay (7). Craftsmen, like Mr. Kemperaj, had seen computers in the past but had never had the desire to use them. This is due to lack of knowledge; they were unaware that the Internet could resolve many stressors that they were facing (8). Many Bangalore locals had never been taught what a computer is, what it can do, or how to use it. Canton finds that another reason as to why it is difficult for rural villages to advance is due to the poor return on investment to the Internet service provider. Another way in which the city is trying to bridge their divide, Canton explains, is through Raghuvaran Sathyanarayana, a successful engineer from Bangalore. He plans to use his own innovations in order to come up with a company that would enable him to utilize left over spectrum in order to provide free, wireless Internet in rural areas (16). Overall, the city of Bangalore is widely known for its technological creativity. While in the past, many of its residents have not been granted the opportunity to access the Internet, the city will continue to strive to bridge this digital divide.

RS 2: Sub-Saharan Africa

Bridging Africa’s Digital Divide

In my past research, it is evident that there are many determinants of our countries digital divide. It is easy to say that certain parts of our country have much more exposure to the internet than others and that higher-class citizens are more likely to access the internet than those of a lower class. Though all these things are true, it is important to take into account the digital divide beyond the United States. Throughout Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata’s article, “Bridging Africa’s Digital Divide,” he discusses the digital divide across Africa, specifically Sub-Saharan African countries and how it affects the African population. Agbata also provides some solutions that he believes could improve the digital divide. In the article, he begins by acknowledging that compared to previous years, Africa has made a good amount of progress “in the digital space by expanding its internet connectivity” but compared to other continents, Africa is falling short. Agbata claims that compared to most areas in Africa, the Sub-Saharan Africa is “where a multiplicity of constraints related to economic, culture and politics, barricade progress of digital access.” He claims that there are a multitude of reasons why Africa has such low digital access rates, but “slow economic growth and poor education” are two of the country’s great barricades. Agbata refers to a report by the World Bank that shows that “only 19 percent of the Sub-Saharan African population has Internet connectivity compared to 88 percent in North Africa.” Similar to the United States, rural areas have far less internet access compared to urban areas. Rural areas are more affected by this because of “poor infrastructure that limits their access to electricity.” (Agbata). Agbata firmly believes that a “widespread use of digital services is essential for economic and social progress.” Areas like the Sub-Saharan have such slow economic growth because they are lacking these digital services. Agbata continues by describing the consequences that result from having little to no internet connectivity. First, he claims that areas are “missing out on job creation and employment opportunities presented by the Internet because it links individuals and businesses around the globe.” He suggests that “a burgeoning digital country is able to keep its government on its toes by making them accountable through public participation” and this would especially be beneficial to Sub-Saharan countries. Agbata then draws attention to how the digital divide in Africa can be improved. His first solution is total “mobile connectivity” and the need for it “to be deployed in rural areas where the use is still low.” His second solution is “optical networking that has the aptitude to generate large-capacity Internet through dense wave length division multiplexing.” Overall, Agbata believes that the only way “the digital divide in Africa will be bridged [is] by the commitment and goodwill of all stakeholders.”