Internet as a human right for connecting the UNconnected

The internet is not a static set of tools or affordances for a specific set of user-defined purposes. Rather, it represents a rapidly evolving set of ways to configure social life. The situation is problematic with regards to the notion of a digital divide being primarily about technological affordability: computers and access. The present digital divides can is also a divide of literacy and skills (Hargittai 2007; Radovanovic 2013, Radovanovic et al., 2015) and benefits gained from the internet use (Ragnedda, 2017). Though, access is still seen as a necessary condition, many people could more practically engage the technology if they had the basic skills. Mobile smart phones are not prohibitively expensive and very often computers, even if somewhat older and under powered, are still readily available for work. Thus access, as it turns out, is not always the obvious or even the primary barrier.

Digital literacy skills and free access to basic information play a significant role.

Digital divide, as sociological phenomenon, creates excluded, discriminated groups who do not have access to the internet, to information, or maybe to the necessary skills for using devices and digital media software. In today’s information society, being left on the outside can have a profound effect. Living in the margins without access to information technologies such as the internet, impacts an individual’s engagement not only in political and social, but also educational life.

The term ‘digital divide’ was being introduced in March 1999., in the official UNDP report, and it denoted a ‘gap between those with the access to the Internet and those without’. A decade later, and the term – digital divide was no longer sufficient. The policy makers and researchers realized that the digital divide was a result of other, deeper social divisions and a new term was thought up: digital inequality. DiMaggio and Hargittai (2001) introduced the term ‘digital inequality’ describing not only differences in access, but also of skills, social support and a lack of understanding about the purposes for which the technology is being deployed. The concept of digital inequality recognizes the importance of education, access to information and socio-economic conditions in creating divides. The new, wider definition shifted the focus from the narrow view of ‘technology as liberator’ to examining the impact of ‘real life’ social inequalities, such as social status and class.

However, the global gap between haves and have-nots is widening, and the consequence is that the network society is creating parallel communications systems: one for the members of this elite, and the other for those without connections, money, and up-to-date knowledge. Class power earned by internet access leads to “information rich” and “information poor” societies (Radovanovic et al., 2015).

Now, in the fourth digital revolution, we can distinguish three levels of a digital divide: the divide in access, divide in digital literacy skills and capabilitiies, and divide in benefits gained from the internet use. And, here we are, to the present moment.
On January 1st, 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development officially came into force, proclaiming access to the internet as a basic human right and fundamental to achieving sustainability goals. This presented a rare opportunity to impact the billions of lives, and is win-win for all stakeholders: service providers, users, national governments, content providers, and equipment manufactures.
Higher penetration of internet and ICT bring advantages to everyone in society:
I. Inhabitants gain access to governance, educational and healthcare resources, offering the possibility of socioeconomic improvement for themselves and their families.
II. Digital inclusion is vital for six key sectors in local governments: health, education, financial services, retail, government and agriculture.
III. The impact of broadband penetration on the growth of national GDP is well documented and can range anywhere from 0.9% to 3.6% (ITU, 2012).
IV. Corporations have access to new markets and this leads to more jobs, higher profits, and economic growth. In particular, the value proposition to the operators is significant to grow number of subscribers, revenues and brand loyalty as good corporate citizen. Studies have shown that 40% of free internet service users migrate to full paying subscribers within one month of signing up to free service.

The Basic Internet Foundation focuses on “Internet light for all”, the free information for everyone. The Foundation provides non-commercial content, typically provided through information spots (hotspots) in remote villages in UNconnected areas. For this purpose, the foundation has developed a low-cost infrastructure for information access. The infrastructure consists of a distributed network control centre for free access to information, the voucher system for paid access to the full Internet, as well as the local hotspot for information.
Poor healthcare systems push people into poverty, and the lack of basic information is a part of the health ecosystem. The Foundation is currently building the overall digital ecosystem for societal and digital inclusion. This is leading to the general goal with our focus on information, solar & renewable, light, mobile ecosystem for digital access, free access for information for those not part of the digital society, as well as empowering the rural communities with digital health information, education, mobile money/micro-credits. The business model includes a holistic approach, and a partnership with Telecom, Mobile Banks, etc.

The future research and development work should focus not only on the technological infrastructure (first level of digital divide), but also on indicators on reduction of two other levels (skills, capabilities, returning benefits) of digital divide in Global South and other unconnected areas. Finally, future initiatives and partner coalitions should also include other dimensions of digital divides and focus on more tangible outcomes.

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References:

DiMaggio P and Hargittai E (2001) Digital inequality: from unequal access to differentiated use: a literature review and agenda for research on digital inequality. Available at: http://www. eszter.com/research/pubs/dimaggio-etal-digitalinequality.pdf

Hargittai E (2007) A framework for studying differences in people’s digital media uses. In: Kutscher N and Otto H (eds) Cyberworld Unlimited. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften/ GWV Fachverlage GmbH, pp. 121–137.

Radovanović, Danica (2013). ‘The Internet and digital divide in South Eastern Europe: Connectivity does not end the digital divide, skills do.’ The digital divide: the Internet and social inequality in international perspective / edited by Massimo Ragnedda and Glenn W. Muschert. London and New York, Routledge, pp.165-177

Radovanović, D., Hogan, B., and Lalić, D. (2015) Overcoming digital divides in higher education: Digital literacy beyond Facebook. New Media & Society, SAGE. Available at: http://nms.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/06/02/1461444815588323.abstract

Ragnedda, M. (2017) The third Digital Divide: a weberian approach to digital inequalities, Routledge.

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