The Global Digital Divide

The global digital divide describes global disparities, primarily between developed and developing countries, in regards to access to computing and information resources such as the Internet and the opportunities derived from such access.[64] As with a smaller unit of analysis, this gap describes an inequality that exists, referencing a global scale.

The Internet is expanding very quickly, and not all countries—especially developing countries—are able to keep up with the constant changes. The term "digital divide" doesn't necessarily mean that someone doesn’t have technology; it could mean that there is simply a difference in technology. These differences can refer to, for example, high-quality computers, fast Internet, technical assistance, or telephone services. The difference between all of these is also considered a gap.

Internet users in 2012 as a percentage of a country's population. Source: International Telecommunications Union.[4]

Internet users per 100 inhabitants. Source: International Telecommunications Union.[58][59]

Worldwide Internet users
2005 2010 2014a
World population[60] 6.5 billion 6.9 billion 7.2 billion
Not using the Internet 84% 70% 60%
Using the Internet 16% 30% 40%
Users in the developing world 8% 21% 32%
Users in the developed world 51% 67% 78%
a Estimate.

Source: International Telecommunications Union.[61]
Internet users by region
2005 2010 2014a
Africa       2%       10%       19%
Americas 36% 49% 65%
Arab States 8% 26% 41%
Asia and Pacific 9% 23% 32%
Commonwealth of

Independent States
10% 34% 56%
Europe 46% 67% 75%
a Estimate.

Source: International Telecommunications Union.[61]
Fixed broadband Internet subscriptions in 2012 as a percentage of a country's population. Source: International Telecommunications Union.[62]

Mobile broadband Internet subscriptions in 2012 as a percentage of a country's population. Source: International Telecommunications Union.[63]

Worldwide broadband subscriptions
2007 2010 2014a
World population[60] 6.6 billion 6.9 billion 7.2 billion
Fixed broadband 5% 8% 10%
Developing world 2% 4% 6%
Developed world 18% 24% 27%
Mobile broadband 4% 11% 32%
Developing world 1% 4% 21%
Developed world 19% 43% 84%
a Estimate.

Source: International Telecommunications Union.[61]
Broadband subscriptions by region
  Fixed subscriptions:    2007 2010 2014a
Africa 0.1% 0.2% 0.4%
Americas 11% 14% 17%
Arab States 1% 2% 3%
Asia and Pacific 3% 6% 8%
Commonwealth of

Independent States
2% 8% 14%
Europe 18% 24% 28%
  Mobile subscriptions:    2007 2010 2014a
Africa 0.2% 2% 19%
Americas 6% 23% 59%
Arab States 0.8% 5% 25%
Asia and Pacific 3% 7% 23%
Commonwealth of

Independent States
0.2% 22% 49%
Europe 15% 29% 64%
a Estimate.

Source: International Telecommunications Union.[61]

The global digital divide versus the digital divide

The global digital divide is a special case of the digital divide, the focus is set on the fact that "Internet has developed unevenly throughout the world" [28]:681 causing some countries to fall behind in technology, education, labor, democracy, and tourism. The concept of the digital divide was originally popularized in regard to the disparity in Internet access between rural and urban areas of the United States of America; the global digital divide mirrors this disparity on an international scale.

The global digital divide also contributes to the inequality of access to goods and services available through technology. Computers and the Internet provide users with improved education, which can lead to higher wages; the people living in nations with limited access are therefore disadvantaged.[65] This global divide is often characterized as falling along what is sometimes called the north-south divide of "northern" wealthier nations and "southern" poorer ones.

Obstacles to overcoming the global digital divide

Some people argue that basic necessities need to be considered before achieving digital inclusion, such as an ample food supply and quality health care. Minimizing the global digital divide requires considering and addressing the following types of access:

Physical Access
Involves, "the distribution of ICT devices per capita…and land lines per thousands".[29]:306 Individuals need to obtain access to computers, landlines, and networks in order to access the Internet. This access barrier is also addressed in Article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the United Nations.

Financial Access
The cost of ICT devices, traffic, applications, technician and educator training, software, maintenance and infrastructures require ongoing financial means.[32]

Socio-demographic Access
Empirical tests have identified that several socio-demographic characteristics foster or limit ICT access and usage. Among different countries, educational levels and income are the most powerful explanatory variables, with age being a third one.[32][35] Others, like gender, don't seem to have much of an independent effect.[33]

Cognitive Access
In order to use computer technology, a certain level of information literacy is needed. Further challenges include information overload and the ability to find and use reliable information.

Design Access
Computers need to be accessible to individuals with different learning and physical abilities including complying with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 in the United States.[66]

Institutional Access
In illustrating institutional access, Wilson states "the numbers of users are greatly affected by whether access is offered only through individual homes or whether it is offered through schools, community centers, religious institutions, cybercafés, or post offices, especially in poor countries where computer access at work or home is highly limited".[29]:303

Political Access
Guillen & Suarez argue that that "democratic political regimes enable a faster growth of the Internet than authoritarian or totalitarian regimes".[28]:687 The Internet is considered a form of e-democracy and attempting to control what citizens can or cannot view is in contradiction to this. Recently situations in Iran and China have denied people the ability to access certain website and disseminate information. Iran has also prohibited the use of high-speed Internet in the country and has removed many satellite dishes in order to prevent the influence of western culture, such as music and television.[67]

Cultural Access
Many experts claim that bridging the digital divide is not sufficient and that the images and language needed to be conveyed in a language and images that can be read across different cultural lines.[30]



  1. ^ Jump up to:a b U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). (1995). Falling through the net: A survey of the have nots in rural and urban America.. Retrieved from
  2. Jump up^ Norris, P. (2001). Digital Divide: Civic Engagement, Information Poverty and the Internet Worldwide. Cambridge University Press.
  3. Jump up^ Chinn, Menzie D. and Robert W. Fairlie. (2004). The Determinants of the Global Digital Divide: A Cross-Country Analysis of Computer and Internet Penetration. Economic Growth Center. Retrieved from
  4. ^ Jump up to:a b "Percentage of Individuals using the Internet 2000-2012", International Telecommunications Union (Geneva), June 2013, retrieved 22 June 2013
  5. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g "Technological information inequality as an incessantly moving target: The redistribution of information and communication capacities between 1986 and 2010", Martin Hilbert (2013), Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology; free access to the article through this link:
  6. Jump up^ Zickuher, Kathryn. 2011. Generations and their gadgets. Pew Internet & American Life Project.
  7. Jump up^ Compaine, B.M. (2001). The digital divide: Facing a crisis or creating a myth? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
  8. Jump up^ Dutton, W.H.; Gillett, S.E.; McKnight, L.W.; Peltu, M. (2004). "Bridging broadband internet divides". Journal of Information Technology 19 (1): 28–38. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jit.2000007.
  9. Jump up^ Kathryn zickuhr. Who’s not online and why? Pew Research Center, 2013.
  10. Jump up^ Eszter Hargittai. The Digital Divide and What to Do About It. New Economy Handbook, p. 824, 2003.
  11. Jump up^ Susan Crawford's remarks at the 2013 National Conference for Media Reform
  12. Jump up^ SciDevNet (2014) How mobile phones increased the digital divide;
  13. Jump up^ Abdalhakim, Hawaf., (2009). An innovated objective digital divide measure, Journal of Communication and Computer, Volume 6, No.12 (Serial No.61), USA.
  14. Jump up^ Paschalidou, Georgia, (2011),Digital divide and disparities in the use of new technologies,
  15. Jump up^ Figures 11 and 12 in "Mapping the dimensions and characteristics of the world’s technological communication capacity during the period of digitization (1986–2007/2010)". Hilbert, Martin. Working paper INF/15-E, International Telecommunications Union. 2 December 2011.
  16. Jump up^ "Information Societies or "ICT equipment societies"? Measuring the digital information processing capacity of a society in bits and bytes", Hilbert, M., López, P., & Vasquez, C. (2010), The Information Society, 26(3)
  17. ^ Jump up to:a b "Mapping the dimensions and characteristics of the world’s technological communication capacity during the period of digitization", Martin Hilbert (2011), Presented at the 9th World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Meeting, Mauritius: International Telecommunication Union (ITU); free access to the article can be found here:
  18. Jump up^ "Chapter 5: Measuring communication capacity in bits and bytes", in Measuring the report Information Society 2012; ITU (International Telecommunication Union) (2012).
  19. Jump up^ Mun-cho, K. & Jong-Kil, K. (2001). Digital divide: conceptual discussions and prospect, In W. Kim, T. Wang Ling, Y.j. Lee & S.S. Park (Eds.), The human society and the Internet: Internet related socio-economic Issues, First International Conference, Seoul, Korea: Proceedings, (((Springer))), New York, NY.
  20. Jump up^ Aqili, S., & Moghaddam, A. (2008). "Bridging the digital divide: The role of librarians and information professionals in the third millennium". Electronic Library, 26(2), 226-237.doi:10.1108/02640470810864118. ISSN 0264-0473.
  21. Jump up^ Livingston, Gretchen. 2010. Latinos and Digital Technology, 2010. Pew Hispanic Center
  22. Jump up^ Ramalingam A, Kar SS (2014). "Is there a digital divide among school students? an exploratory study from Puducherry.". J Educ Health Promot 3: 30. doi:10.4103/2277-9531.131894.PMC 4089106. PMID 25013823.
  23. Jump up^ Ryan Kim (25 October 2011). "‘App gap’ emerges highlighting savvy mobile children". GigaOM.
  24. ^ Jump up to:a b c Mossberger, Karen; Tolbert, Carolina J.; Gilbert, Michele (2006). "Race, Place, and Information Technology (IT)". Urban Affairs Review 41: 583–620. doi:10.1177/1078087405283511.
  25. Jump up^ Lawton, Tait. "15 Years of Chinese Internet Usage in 13 Pretty Graphs". CNNIC.
  26. Jump up^ Wang, Wensheng. Impact of ICTs on Farm Households in China, ZEF of University Bonn, 2001
  27. Jump up^ Statistical Survey Report on the Internet Development in China. China Internet Network Information Center. January 2007. From
  28. ^ Jump up to:a b c Guillen, M. F.; Suárez, S. L. (2005). "Explaining the global digital divide: Economic, political and sociological drivers of cross-national internet use". Social Forces 84 (2): 681–708.doi:10.1353/sof.2006.0015.
  29. ^ Jump up to:a b c Wilson, III. E.J. (2004). The Information Revolution and Developing Countries. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  30. ^ Jump up to:a b Carr, Deborah (2007). "The Global Digital Divide".Contexts 6 (3): 58–58. doi:10.1525/ctx.2007.6.3.58.
  31. Jump up^ Wilson, Kenneth, Jennifer Wallin, and Christa Reiser. "Social Science Computer Review." Social Science Computer Review.2003; 21(2): 133-143 html PDF
  32. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e Hilbert, Martin (2010). "When is Cheap, Cheap Enough to Bridge the Digital Divide? Modeling Income Related Structural Challenges of Technology Diffusion in Latin America" (PDF). World Development 38 (5): 756–770.doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2009.11.019.
  33. ^ Jump up to:a b Hilbert, Martin (November–December 2011). "Digital gender divide or technologically empowered women in developing countries? A typical case of lies, damned lies, and statistics".Women's Studies International Forum (Elsevier) 34 (6): 479–489.doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2011.07.001. Pdf.
  34. Jump up^ (((Rubin))), R.E. (2010). Foundations of library and information science. 178-179. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.
  35. ^ Jump up to:a b c Hilbert, Martin (2011). "The end justifies the definition: The manifold outlooks on the digital divide and their practical usefulness for policy-making" (PDF). Telecommunications Policy 35 (8): 715–736. doi:10.1016/j.telpol.2011.06.012.
  36. Jump up^ Galperin, H. (2010). Goodbye digital divide, Hello digital confusion? A critical embrace of the emerging ICT4D consensus. Information Technologies and International Development, 6 Special Edition, 53–55
  37. Jump up^ National Telecommunications & Information Administration, U.S.Department of Commerce. (1995). Falling through the net: A survey of the‘have nots’ in rural and urban America. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from
  38. Jump up^ National Telecommunications & Information Administration, U.S.Department of Commerce. (1998). Falling through the net II: New data on the digital divide. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from
  39. ^ Jump up to:a b c National Telecommunications & Information Administration, U.S.Department of Commerce. (1999). Falling through the net: Defining the digital divide. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from
  40. Jump up^ National Telecommunications & Information Administration, U.S.Department of Commerce. (1995). Falling through the net: A survey of the‘have nots’ in rural and urban America. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from
  41. Jump up^ Karen Mossberger (2003). Virtual Inequality: Beyond the Digital Divide. Georgetown University Press
  42. Jump up^ United Nations Educational UNDay
  43. Jump up^ "UN Information and Communication Technologies (ITC) Task Force Launched Today at Headquarters", Press Release, United Nations (New York), 20 November 2001
  44. Jump up^ Acevedo, Manuel. 2005. Volunteering in the information society, Research paper.
  45. Jump up^ Greyling, E.; Zulu, S. (2010). "Content development in an indigenous digital library: A case study in community participation". IFLA Journal 36 (1): 30–9.doi:10.1177/0340035209359570.
  46. ^ Jump up to:a b One Laptop Per Child. (2009).
  47. Jump up^ Blau, A (2002). "Access isn't enough: Merely connecting people and computers won't close the digital divide". American Libraries33 (6): 50–52.
  48. Jump up^ Pingo, Z. B. (2015). Transition from Camel Libraries to Digital Technologies in Kenya Public Libraries. Public Library Quarterly, 34(1), 63-84.
  49. Jump up^ Gurstein, Michael. "Effective use: A community informatics strategy beyond the digital divide". Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  50. Jump up^ Gurstein, Michael. "Open data: Empowering the empowered or effective data use for everyone?". Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  51. ^ Jump up to:a b Graham, M. (July 2011). "Time machines and virtual portals: The spatialities of the digital divide". Progress in Development Studies 11 (3): 211–227. doi:10.1177/146499341001100303. Closed access
  52. Jump up^ Sciadas, George. (2003). Monitoring the Digital Divide…and Beyond. Orbicom.
  53. ^ Jump up to:a b Reilley, Collen A. Teaching Wikipedia as a Mirrored Technology. First Monday, Vol. 16, No. 1-3, January 2011
  54. Jump up^ Graham, Mark (2014). "The Knowledge Based Economy and Digital Divisions of Labour". Pages 189-195 in Companion to Development Studies, 3rd edition, V. Desai, and R. Potter (eds). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN 978-1-44-416724-5 (paperback). ISBN 978-0-415-82665-5 (hardcover).
  55. Jump up^ Correa, Teresa. (2008) Literature Review: Understanding the "second-level digital divide" papers by Teresa Correa. Unpublished manuscript, School of Journalism, College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin. [1].
  56. ^ Jump up to:a b Schradie, Jen (2011). "The Digital Production Gap: The Digital Divide and Web 2.0 Collide" (PDF). Poetics 39 (2): 145–168. doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2011.02.003.
  57. ^ Jump up to:a b Reinhart, J.; Thomas, E.; Toriskie, J. (2011). "K-12 Teachers: Technology Use and the Second Level Digital Divide".Journal of Instructional Psychology 38 (3/4): 181.
  58. Jump up^ "Individuals using the Internet 2005 to 2014", Key ICT indicators for developed and developing countries and the world (totals and penetration rates), International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Retrieved 25 May 2015.
  59. Jump up^ "Internet users per 100 inhabitants 1997 to 2007", ICT Data and Statistics (IDS), International Telecommunication Union(ITU). Retrieved 25 May 2015.
  60. ^ Jump up to:a b "Total Midyear Population for the World: 1950-2050", International Programs Center for Demographic and Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  61. ^ Jump up to:a b c d ICT Facts and Figures 2005, 2010, 2014, Telecommunication Development Bureau, International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Retrieved 24 May 2015.
  62. Jump up^ "Fixed (wired)-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants 2012", Dynamic Report, ITU ITC EYE, International Telecommunication Union. Retrieved on 29 June 2013.
  63. Jump up^ "Active mobile-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants 2012", Dynamic Report, ITU ITC EYE, International Telecommunication Union. Retrieved on 29 June 2013.
  64. Jump up^ Lu, Ming-te (2001). "Digital divide in developing countries"(PDF). Journal of Global Information Technology Management 4(3): 1–4. doi:10.1080/1097198x.2001.10856304.
  65. Jump up^ Krueger 1993; Attewell and Battle 1999.
  66. Jump up^ Section 508 (1998). United States Government.
  67. Jump up^ Tait, R. (2006). "Iran bans fast internet to cut west's influence", The Guardian, 17 October 2006.

Licenses and Attributions

More Study Resources for You

Show More