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Digital access, aspiration, or reality?
Why do we depend so strongly on computers when computer accessibility is not a reality for most society? With the turning of the century, interaction between humans and computers has increased dramatically. Computers, and to a greater extent Internet, have become pillars of the current economic, political and social paradigm. Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege to access and benefit from the technologies they have promoted.
The concept of digital divide refers to the increasing gap between the underprivileged members of society or parts of the world – especially the poor, and rural portion of the population who do not have access to internet connections or computers – and the wealthy, middle-class, and youngers living in urban and suburban areas.
According to Measuring Digital Development: Facts and figures 2020 – a new report launched on February 4, 2022 by the International Telecommunication Union (agency of the United Nations) – all urban areas in the world are virtually covered by a mobile-broadband network although worrying breach in connectivity and internet access persists in rural areas. Those gaps are particularly evident in the least developed countries (LDCs) where 17% of the rural population lives in areas with non-existent mobile coverage and 19% of the rural population is covered by only a 2G network.
Being the development of new digital strategies to help marginalized communities the core mission of the Observatory, OCCAM intends to promote a more inclusive and fairer society able to preserve its principles through the implementation of different projects and programs. Among others is the creation of ICT Villages for the provision of various e-services designed to encourage endogenous and sustainable development of the least developed countries. The aid is focused on supplying electric infrastructure and internet connection – as it was done in the first ICT Village in Honduras in 1999 where the connection was up to 108 Mb/sec for more than 30,000 people – enabling the creation of a new communication system and supporting access to new technologies. In 2005, OCCAM signed an agreement with the International Telecommunication Union and the Navajo Nation – a sovereign territory located in the United States – to extend the ICT Village Model to other indigenous communities and assist them with internet communication and wireless technology. Stemming from the success of the ICT Village in the Navajo Nation, the model was extended and implemented in Sambaina, Madagascar, which was declared UN Millennium Village in 2008 and is currently still active involving more than 50 young students who benefit from the internet access centre located in the community.
Besides, OCCAM is advocating to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural territories during the Infopoverty World Conference. The 21st edition, held in December 2021, has brought under the spotlight various topics concerning the lack of connection around the world. Prof. Nicol Turner-Lee has highlighted that 2.2 billion, mostly young people under the age of 25 across the world, are not connected to the internet. She has also underlined how not being “online” is not necessarily a symptom of possessing a mobile phone with a 5G connection, but rather a symptom of poverty based on economic and financial differences that are not only permeating but worsening in every community.
“This digital divide is not voluntary. It is not an either-or solution. As such, there is a need to have a Global Digital Inclusion Plan.”
(Nicol Turner-Lee, XXI Infopoverty World Conference)