May 17





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Bridging The Digital Divide: A Responsibility For All

Bridging The Digital Divide: A Responsibility For All

The internet has demonstrated its power to connect and communicate beyond borders, inform, educate and democratise knowledge making access to information readily available to billions of people worldwide. The internet has revolutionised commerce, helping businesses and individuals to access global audiences and participate in the digital economy. The internet has increased civic participation, helping communities express themselves online.

As nations worldwide commemorate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), celebrating the power of the internet and information and communications technologies (ICTs) to transform societies and economies, a stark reality persists amidst the digital revolution. A vast digital divide separates the connected and the unconnected, with the Global South disproportionately affected.

Why exclusion persists

This year’s WTISD theme –  Building a sustainable future and ICTs for all compels actors in the digital rights ecosystem to confront this disparity. While internet penetration steadily rises globally, millions in the Global South remain excluded. This lack of access is spurred by a vicious cycle as limited resources hinder infrastructure development, perpetuating the digital divide. The consequences are far-reaching as individuals miss out on important information. Without the internet, civic engagement online is curtailed and platforms for dialogue become out of reach. Without internet access, digital trade is suppressed and entrepreneurs struggle to reach new markets.  Inadequate internet infrastructure including fibre optic networks and mobile towers limits access to the internet, moreso, considering that most digital infrastructure is often concentrated in the urban areas. 

A report by the World Bank highlights that approximately 9.2 percent of the global population which amounts to at least 700 million individuals are living in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty is classified as persons living on less than USD $2.25 per day. Of this population, 90 percent reside in sub-Saharan Africa where 1 Gigabyte (GB) of data costs an average of USD $3.31 and in South Asia where access to the internet is hampered by a lack of digital skills and literacy. In South Asia, 1.1 billion people are not using the internet, a gap that is exacerbated by the high cost of internet-enabled handsets which cost 25 percent of the monthly Gross Domestic Product. While it is evident that affordability and accessibility challenges impede the enjoyment of basic human rights, other factors such as inequitable mobile internet adoption in South Asia increase the gender divide. Findings of the Mobile Gender Gap Report reveal that in South Asia, women are 58 percent less likely than men to use mobile internet and rural populations are 45 percent less likely to use mobile internet than urban populations. Without access to affordable internet and a lack of digital skills, billions are deprived of their right to freely express themselves as stipulated by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Opportunities for Bridging the digital divide

To ensure the right to access information is achieved, governments need to proactively adopt regulations that promote affordable pricing for marginalised communities including women and girls who often experience a gender digital access gap and persons with disabilities who are often excluded from policy-making processes.  

The high data costs remain a major barrier in many countries. As such, governments and telecommunications companies should collaborate through public-private partnerships (PPPs) to provide affordable data plans and internet access, particularly in remote areas. PIN’s report highlights how governments can leverage PPPs to achieve meaningful connectivity and provides insight into strategies that governments can adopt and learn from.

PIN’s Londa report launched in April 2024, depicts challenges such as lack of transparency and accountability in the implementation of the Universal Service Fund (USF) as some of the impediments to bridging the digital divide. To ensure the inclusion of all, governments should be transparent about use of the USF so that the fund is used to improve telecommunications infrastructure and connect underserved communities.

Civil society organisations and the government should design digital skills and literacy training for underserved communities. Since its inception Paradigm Initiative has been at the forefront of increasing young people’s access to digital skills through the LIFE programme which is being implemented across the continent, offering 10 weeks of training in ICTs, Entrepreneurship, Life Skills and Financial Readiness to youth living in under-served communities and lacking access to tertiary education due to poverty. 

By Bridgette Ndlovu, Partnerships and Engagements Officer, Paradigm Initiative

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