RS2: Afrika

Access to information: bridging the digital divide in Africa

When most people think of Africa, they see a continent that is trying to emerge from the “third world” label it has been given. Currently, it is a difficult feat. This is due to among other things a lack of internet access. In fact, according to an article written in The Guardian by Loren Treisman, “Only 7% of the continent’s inhabitants are online” (para. 1). The vast majority of the continent lacks internet access making it impossible for Africans to tap into the potential of the booming online economy. An apparent barrier keeping many Africans off the web is that most of the internet is in English. Right now, low-tech methodologies are spread information but there is a need to integrate more high tech methods into their everyday lives.

Current efforts are being made to eradicate the major issue of many lacking internet access. Treisman explains that non-profits need to combine “low and high-tech approaches to ensure that citizens are able to access critical information that can help improve their lives” (para 2). Combining low-tech and high-tech makes sure that the citizens of Africa can afford the technology but also are not using outdated systems. If they only used a high-tech approach it would not be effective due to high illiteracy rates. Without being able to read efficiently the citizens in Africa lacking internet would not be able to navigate the web. There are many non-profits working towards the goal of eradicating the digital divide. These organizations are taking multifaceted and creative approaches by including the government and tourism sector in their plans. For example, in Uganda the Question Box has created a very simple and easy to use interface to allow those in hard-to-reach areas of the country to bring “expert about health, education and agricultural services” (para. 10).

Overall, the economic possibilities in Africa are endless once more of the continents’ population is connected online. Said best by Treisman, “technology can enable critical information to reach marginalized communities at a rate and scale never before possible” (para. 13). With the expansion of programs and non-profits combining efforts with the locals and their governments, strides towards a more connected and upgraded continent are on the horizon.

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RS2: France

Digital divide in Business and in France

The article I chose was an informational article pertaining to the digital divide in France that is divided into two main parts, the first being why the digital divide is relevant and the importance of IT in the business industry, and the second being reasons as to why a digital divide exists in France, and some solutions that have been put into place in an attempt at closing it. Dr. Adi starts off telling the reader about the importance of IT in her education saying, “IT took an important place from university where I had courses on how to use software such as Word, Excel, and Power Point.” (para. 3). Dr. Adi moves on to explain why IT is relevant in business and states “companies ask for proficiency in using the office pack and sometimes even require particular software such as Photoshop, Sphinx…” (para. 4). She then explains this claim “by the fact that IT increases the production as everything is easier.” (para. 4) and gives some examples of increased productivity such as IT being used to “create new contracts, pay the employees, schedule meetings…” (para. 4). Finally, to end this section she explains that individuals without these skills have less opportunities to acquire a good job and are therefore left behind. Dr. Adi moves on to explain the digital divide in France in three sections: the generational divide, the social divide, and the cultural divide. The generational divide is that only “18% of the over 65 use the internet.” (para. 7), and some of the reasons as to why this huge divide exists in the senior population are “the acquisition cost of the equipment and the lack of training as obstacles.” (para. 7). The social divide is that “49% of French who live with a monthly income under 900 Euros have no landline telephone access coupled with internet.” (para. 8). Finally, the cultural divide is that “97% of the graduated people of the higher education have a computer at home, against 1 person on 2 among the non-graduated.” (para. 9). Through these divides and statistics, she shows that education and income levels have a great effect on the digital divide in France. To conclude, she presents some of the actions that are being taken to help bridge the divide including public spaces to “teach seniors how to use a computer.” (para. 11) and France planning to “create more digital public places with a free access to the internet.” (para. 12).

RS2: Germany

Powerhouse Germany badly trailing rivals in broadband

The article “Powerhouse Germany badly trailing rivals in broadband” talks about the growing digital divide in Germany due to the weak digital infrastructure in the country. The article starts off by giving the example of Christian Grobmeier, a German software developer who had a hard time finding a home with a decent internet connection in the Bavarian countryside. The internet connection would allow him to conduct everyday business activities like Skype meetings and allow him to do his job efficiently. According to the writer, Grobmeier is not alone. The writer then goes on to explain how Germany, considered an export powerhouse, is falling behind in providing digital infrastructure. According to the writer the country has ‘failed to replace infrastructure left over from a different era of telecommunications” (para 4) with a “much faster, more-robust fire optic network” (para 4).

The writer then explains how this digital divide in the country, with people struggling to find good strong connections or at times any connectivity at all, has several possible disadvantages. The article explains how poor internet access might “worsen rural depopulation”, as more and more content moves online and “[Lack of internet access] becomes a social problem” (para 8). Poor connectivity also brings on a possible economic threat. The article cites critics who claim Germany has become too complacent with its success as an exporter of cars and must, instead, get up to speed with “data-hungry technologies like self-driving vehicles and virtual reality” (para 9).

The writer also talks about how the issue of the digital divide has received political attention. The writer states how the call for a stronger digital infrastructure is a focal point of the campaign of the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Martin Schulz.

The writer also discusses Berlin’s target of providing access to a bandwidth speed of 50 Mbps a second by 2018 and the steps that are being taken to achieve this goal. Deutsche Telekom, the company that still dominates the current market has argued that “We neither have the construction capacities nor the financial resources in Germany to build out a fiber-based network over Germany now” (para 14). The company, trying to preserve its dominant position in the market, suggests using vectoring – which limits the interference to connections as a way of increasing speeds on existing copper cables. The writer analyses why this maybe bad. Even though vectoring might help achieve the government’s current target, it is slower than fiber optic and may soon become outdated – hence, reinforcing the problem with the existing infrastructure.

RS2: Singapore

Singapore launches Digital Readiness Blueprint to help every last man cross the digital divide

The following summary is of an article about steps the country of Singapore is taking to ensure every “last man is helped to cross the digital divide” (para. 2). It was written by Irene Tham, a Senior Tech Correspondent for the Straits Times, by which it was published. The Digital Readiness Blueprint, “launched…at the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s Tech carnival” (para. 4). It highlights a recommendation of ten steps that will ensure all will have access within the country. Many government authorities are already assisting with the implementation of some of these steps. “The Monetary Authority of Singapore is working with local banks to ensure free [online] bank accounts are also available to people with disabilities, former offenders, and the chronically unemployed” (para. 10). I will now briefly outline the steps. The first two steps “make access to basic digital enablers such as mobile devices…as widespread as possible” and “customize access” to those with special needs (para. 16). Next is the teaching of basic “skills for everyday activities” (para. 16). This will be aided by the following step, which establishes resources to teach citizens how to identify “online falsehood” (para. 16). The fifth step “ensures children in Singapore are taught the essential values to be responsible cyber citizens” (para. 16). This will be followed by businesses ensuring all their employees are trained to be digitally literate. For those without that opportunity, the seventh step will “provide dedicated and regular one-on-one…help at community centers, public libraries, and senior activity centers” (para. 16). The next step would be supporting community projects “that connect needy residents to volunteers, in a move to reduce social isolation” (para. 16). The ninth step is the encouragement of organizations to make their services inclusive to all types of people. The final step is the development of “government apps, websites, and services in the four official languages” (para. 16). If all these steps are taken, the DRB believes that the digital divide will be bridged.

RS2: Britain

DECODING BRITAIN’S DIGITAL DIVIDE

There is a clear distinction in Britain amongst the members of society who currently use technology and those who do not use the Internet. In the United Kingdom, ten million people do not use the internet. Of this number, 40% (four million people) have never has access to the internet for three main reasons – they are poor, unemployed, or due to their old age. The British government has enlisted the help of Martha Lane Fox, the founder of Lastminute.com, in an effort to help this group of four million people to get online with their own email address accounts and Internet access. In addition to the lack of internet skills, there is a study suggesting that 5% of the people living in the UK are not clear of who Steve Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee are, and what they have done to change technology. Although this may make it seem like Britain is way behind the rest of the world on Internet use, that is not necessarily the case. People in the UK spend more than any other European nation on online shopping. One-third of all online sales comes from Britain, and online shopping is 10% of all retail sales in Britain. With this being said, consumers still need clarification on what they are buying. Charlie Ponsonby, the CEO of SimplifyDigital.com stated that “’People are confused by the technology involved in TV, broadband and phone. They’re confused about the providers in the market. And they’re confused by the deals on offer’” (Independent 2010). This website has created a feature called a “Personal Shopper” on its website to help control the disconnect and clarify the confusion that many online shoppers experience.

Not only is shopping heavily done through online technology, but paper banking is soon becoming obsolete. One factor that is causing this is the fact that electronic payments are much less expensive to process. Group that will be most affected by this change are the elderly and the poor. Overall, Simplify Digital is working to try to create an easier way for consumers to order products online. The British government is trying to determine a tax program to increase broadband and upgrade fibre networks. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is investing 300 million pounds to give laptop computers to low income families. Overall, online simplification of the Internet is needed, and easier instructions on computer navigation is essential for novice users.

RS2: EU

Bridging the Digital Divide in the EU

The European Union is a coalition of 28 countries across Europe, in which people, capital, and commodities can move freely between member states. Mar Negreiro writes a fact filled analysis, “Bridging the Digital Divide in the EU” for the European Parliamentary Research Service. The traditional definition of the ‘digital divide’ is the gap between those who have access to internet, and those who do not. This is typically seen as a rural-urban divide; however, it is becoming more apparent that this divide is more than meets the eye. A second gap comes to light as more people gain access: the ability to fully use the internet. The Digital Agenda for Europe, a, initiative by the European Commission, had 3 goals for the Union. To bring ‘basic broadband’ to all Europeans by 2013, ‘fast broadband’ by 2020, and ‘ultra-fast broadband’ to at least half European households by 2020. The first goal, basic broad band to all Europeans was met on time for its 2013 deadline. However, despite having access to this fixed broadband, 30% of homes have not subscribed. This is due to lack of skills, and equipment or access being too expensive for some households. Negreiro states that “it is clear that wide disparities remain in the EU mainly along a North-South divide” (3) when discussing the broadband take-up progress. Fast and ultra-fast broadband pick up has not been as promising though, as only 68% of the EU has access to fast broadband (mostly in urban areas). Only 9% has access to ultra-fast broadband, which is even more seemingly unlikely to reach the 50% deadline by 2020. The Digital Agenda for Europe also has hopes to increase regular internet use to 75% from 60%, and to 60% from 41% in underprivileged citizens. It also seeks to halve the population who has never used the internet. All three goals were met. The regular internet use was 75% in 2014, and the non-users more than halved at 18% (from 43%). Disadvantaged users were 60% in 2014. Interestingly, Negreiro explained that this disadvantaged division may not be based on a socio-economic rift as many digital divide theories suggest. He states that the “Digital Divide on internet use is largely driven by age and education levels” (4). This ties into the disparity between North and South; Nordic elderly have used the internet whereas many elders in southern countries have not. At the Union’s level, many policies have been put in place through three types of programs: funding, instruments and regulation/ stakeholder engagement.

RS2: UK

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

Mark Scott wrote the article “How a British telecoms startup is bridging UK’s rural digital divide” for Politico magazine. He detailed how a startup, TrueSpeed, is bringing high speed internet to the small, rural town of Keynsham, England. Big technology corporations do not often invest in bringing high speed internet to rural areas, which relegates residents of these areas to poor connections for both broadband and mobile internet access (para 2). However, Scott describes an abnormality in this trend in a small village outside of Bristol, which now “has some of the fastest internet speeds on the planet” (para 3). TrueSpeed, led by Evan Wienburg, has brought high speed internet to an area Scott says seems unlikely for this kind of progress given that it is sparsely dotted with farms and country pubs (para 4). According to Scott, Wienburg wants to dispel the notion that “it’s not practical (or financially viable) to offer ultra-fast internet speeds” to people who live in rural areas (para 5). Scott discusses the value of this venture and others like it in rural Sweden and Greece, and how rural tech companies are succeeding where “national telecoms monopolies and billions of euros of government subsidies…failed” (para 9). Only 40 percent of people in rural areas have access to high speed internet, Scott explains, which can result in “isolation, economic sluggishness and even…populist politics” (para 10). Wienburg, who was in the Royal Air Force and stationed in Virginia, was frustrated by the lack of connection when he returned to the UK and resolved to fix it by starting TrueSpeed (para 13). According to Scott, TrueSpeed is providing rural homes with speeds of 200 megabits per second, with the ability to increase speeds to 1 gigabit per second, which is ten times faster than the UK’s national average and fast enough to make a “city dweller envious” (para 18 & 19). TrueSpeed hopes to connect 15,000 homes by the end of the year and lease out the network to other internet companies to provide more costumer options (para 22). Scott explains how TrueSpeed and companies in other European countries are filling “a much-needed gap in Europe’s efforts” to keep up with the US and China (para 24). Scott concludes by making the point that these efforts are conquering the digital divide in Europe by helping those who “would otherwise be left behind” (para 26).