Beyond the digital divide

OECD Forum, 15th May, 2001: Digital Opportunities and the Digital Divide; moderator: Hisanori Isomura
OECD Observer

The problem of the digital divide is very real, but the Internet can also help repair social damage and bridge the gap between rich and poor, France Telecom chief executive Michel Bon said on Tuesday, May 15. Online, human interaction takes place in an anonymous, image-less environment free of the socio-economic labelling that frequently occurs with face to face contact, Mr. Bon told a session on digital opportunities and the digital divide at the OECD’s Forum 2001. That is why his company has launched an initiative to bring free and lower-cost Internet access to lower-income areas in France.

Panelists agreed that both government initiatives and private sector participation would be needed to provide universal Internet access and the improved education necessary to function well in the knowledge economy. In confronting the social and professional challenges of information and communications technology (ICT), Mr. Bon said, it has also become necessary to educate the politicians who initiate programs on a government level.

Joshua Brenkel, senior vice president of Hewlett Packard emphasised the benefits of globalisation in bringing ICT to developing nations. “Whenever foreign companies come to the third world, they bring ICT with them,” he said. In order to bring the Internet to everyone, however, infrastructure would have to improve while access methods would have to evolve into smaller, more compatible and affordable devices.

Nearly half of Korea’s citizens are now online, largely thanks to private and public co-operation, said Dae Whang Chang, chairman of the World Knowledge Forum Committee and president of Maeil Newspaper and TV. The government has instituted free Internet access for all students until the 12th grade, and for all involved in the subsequent mandatory two-year military service. There has also been generous government support for programs to give computers to middle- and lower-income families. Meanwhile, a market-oriented method has allowed for a high level of Internet cafés and an extremely low access cost to users.

David Dunn, managing partner at Bozman Partners Ltd., emphasised the need for a type of “prepaid Internet access,” pointing to the rapid growth in telecoms in the third world through prepaid access cards and mobile phones. “Most of the world isn’t equipped with a credit card to access the goods and services of the Internet,” he said, and a new payment method would allow for more rapid growth in the developing world.

Denis Gilhooly, Director of ICT for Development at the UN Development Programme, called for a more international and global effort to combat “not the digital divide, but the same social and economic divide that has always existed between the developed and non-developed world.” Faster liberalisation would help bring higher investment in ICT infrastructure in the third world, but efforts in the non-developed world would have to be designed to allow for market failures.

Amadou Cheikh Kanouté, regional director for Consumers International in Senegal, agreed with this point, asking for the creation of a super-national body to intervene when markets fail. He said that public-private partnerships and tax incentives were excellent for increasing connectivity, and insisted that while the digital divide was enormous in Africa, fair access to a more transparent marketplace would encourage participation there. Mr Fantini, an Italian delegate from the AEEG student association, asked how developing countries could avoid repeating the errors that had left industrialised countries with “poisoned” food and air and water pollution. Mr. Kanouté responded that we must be careful to look at development from a different perspective that is not just figure-oriented.

Neil Anderson from Union Network International said the panellists had not dealt satisfactorily with the question of affordable access to new technology. He said they seemed to be suggesting that third generation mobile phones are the answer, but mobile phones are far more expensive for the user than fixed line phones.

©OECD Observer May 2001




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Unemployment
Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016