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

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

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

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • 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.
  • 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 .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

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 2019