ST. LOUIS, Missouri — In a world increasingly moving onto online platforms, the global information and communication technology (ICT) industry is booming. The International Data Corporation, an international provider of market intelligence and ICTs, estimated that global spending on ICTs will average more than $5 million in 2023. Overall, ICT spending will increase by at least 5% annually in new technologies including robotics, 3D Printing and Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR). Technology has been rapidly developing for the past two decades. This begs the question of where it leaves countries that do not have access to this kind of technology. The digital divide between the rich and poor is continually widening because of the exclusive access to digital technology. A new form of poverty has arisen from this development known as digital poverty.
What is Digital Poverty?
ICT is a technology utilized for various forms of communications which include “telecommunications, broadcast media, intelligent building management systems, audiovisual processing and transmission systems, and network-based control and monitoring functions.” For most people with socioeconomic statuses above middle-class in the Western World, these forms of technology range from smartphones, TVs with cable networks, the Macbook and more. As a result, ICTs have become fundamental to many people’s daily lives that are intertwined through social interactions and economic stability.
Digital poverty is “the lack of goods and services based on ICT” in an article from Techopedia. National Public Radio (NPR) reported in 2014 that 4.4 billion do not have access to the Internet. Major nations such as China, India and the United States contribute a little over 50% of the population who do not have access to the Internet through ICT. The digital divide has kept the poor separated from the rich, causing a cycle of digital poverty to perpetuate with no means of escaping. Put at a socioeconomic disadvantage, people without access to ICT cannot access digital information, items online, digital participation or learning opportunities. Often, this digital divide results from inequalities within the nation, such as race, gender, age, economic standing and disabilities. Digital poverty has become apparent throughout the pandemic.
Digital Poverty During the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 has exposed massive disparities across nations throughout the pandemic including the presence of digital poverty. On February 8, 2021, the United Nations (UN) held its fifty-ninth session for the Commission for Social Development in the Economic and Social Council. The UN addressed the importance of digital technologies towards sustainable development worldwide. Maria Fornella-Oehninger and Monica Jahangir-Chowdhury recognized that unavailable ICTs only worsened education, health care and housing inaccessibility. Morocco youth representative Marwa Azelmat stated that more work was necessary beyond deploying technologies in emergency measures. Azelmat argued that “digital technologies are public goods and must be safeguarded as such.” The UN further reported that millions of children lack Internet connections in their homes. This issue has become more prevalent due to the movement of education from an in-person setting to an online format.
In April 2020, around 1.6 billion children were unable to attend school in person due to school closures. A more recent report that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released stated that at least 200 million children in 31 low and middle-income nations are unable to prepare remote learning for students. More than half of the students live in 14 countries that have continually kept their school systems fully or partially closed for at least half of the pandemic. The students that this digital poverty most affected were children from West and Central Africa.
West Kalimantan, Indonesia farmer, Sutil spoke about his struggles of providing education to his child with a writer from the World Bank. Teachers would go to the children’s homes to continue their education and often found difficulty finding the children since the parents were working the rice fields once a week. Bekasi, Indonesia teacher, Rosa found that her daughter had access to online learning. However, poor Internet made teaching and learning harder.
How to Close the Digital Divide
The answer to this question is complicated since closing the digital divide and erasing digital poverty means cooperation across different governments and technology corporations. The UN has emphasized creating universal broadband access at an affordable price. Economic and Social Council President, Munir Akram stated that affordability was the main hurdle in closing the digital divide. However, one can only address the problem of accessibility to forms of ICT with personalized projects designed to each nation’s needs. There are notable developments that countries are taking to create accessibility to ICT.
Digital Technology in Colombia
Karen Abudinen, the Minister of Information and Communication Technologies of Colombia, discussed ongoing plans to expand “high-speed Internet services to thousands of families” and up to 42% of schools in remote areas. Abudinen also described plans for Colombia to train 100,000 computer programmers to move the economy into digital technology.
Extending ICT in Peru
Silvana Vargas, the Minister for Development and Social Inclusion of Peru, stressed that “her Ministry is working with the Ministry of Production to promote initiatives to extend ICT to universities, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.” This process can help promote social inclusion across Peru.
The National Plan for Connectivity in Argentina
Argentina’s “National Plan for Connectivity” has created significant initiatives to universalize ICT services since it launched in September 2020. One of the main aims was supplying telecoms to 100,000 rural families and expanding the fiber network. In addition, there are also endeavors “to update the national data center, broaden WiFi plans, and offer free Internet access across the country.”
As the world continues to move towards online accessibility, ICTs are more critical than ever for people around the globe. While the digital divide may persist, there is hope for the future with nations realizing the importance of bridging this gap. With this in mind, digital poverty may not plague the world in the future.
– Gaby Mendoza