The concept of digital divide represents the existing gap between the information haves and the information have-nots. Traditionally, the term was viewed as a debate on having or not having access to information. Today, it is being described as “with which characteristics, connects how to what”. The definition has evolved over the years due to rapid global mobile phone penetration, and the term is now regarded as inequality between those with more and less bandwidth.
The debate on digital divide traces its origin way back in 1995 when the Commerce Department published its survey on the topic. The findings showed a gap in economic and race between those who could access the internet and those who could not. From 1991 to 1996, the number of personal computers in the U.S increased to about ten million from the previous three hundred thousand. In 2000, the U.S Department of Commerce revealed that about a half of the U.S households had internet access. This means that half of the residents did not have access or skills to use it. Another survey carried out by Department of Commerce in 2004 showed that a total of 204 million U.S citizens had access to the internet representing more than two thirds of the population.
Although the number of U.S citizens with access to the internet continues to grow, the digital divide gap also keeps on widening. Currently, the number of those already connected ranges from those with higher income to the educated. Similarly, the White and Asian Pacific residents are utilizing the latest technologies and getting connected faster compared to the rest of the population (Piatak et al., 2019). However, those in the regions with traditionally slow internet connection rates remain far behind. The main reason why the digital gap continues to widen revolves around the issue of strained economy and racial lines.
Many U.S households still suffer from poor connectivity speed while others lack the technological skills to use it. The current state of digital divide is worrying, and now represents the disparity between the information haves and have-nots. The gap is even wider outside U.S with the current access to internet figure at 39 percent in Africa, 87 percent in Europe and 94 percent in U.S. The statistics show how countries compare with each other despite 3G and 4G being widespread around the globe.
The digital divide is an emerging social concern in the U.S, especially among the rural communities, low income families, and minority groups. From a global point of view, the digital divide underscores the widening gap between the rich and poor countries. Consequently, it polarizes people in different countries and, at the same time, leads to frequent social conflicts. Similarly, the widening gap is a threat to the international security due to digital hegemony.
Most importantly, the digital divide highlights the challenges that developing economies must address to fit into the international community. However, most emerging countries are disadvantaged due to the lack of telecommunication infrastructure needed to address limited internet access. According to Reddick et al. (2020), “only 16 percent of the world’s population utilizes 90 percent of its Internet host computers, clear evidence of this disparity”. In general, the digital divide strives to show the impact of computer technology to society on both nationally and international levels.