Governments must act to close the digital divide

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Gartner has been examining the gap between the technologically destitute and wired citizens across the United States. Michael Fleisher, CEO of Gartner, announced the findings of the Digital Divide and American Society report at the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology.

Today, 50% of US households have Internet access, and Gartner projects that by 2005, 75% will be connected. Despite a booming economy, lower cost PCs and phenomenal growth in the Internet, there is still a strong digital divide.

To narrow the divide, the government will need to play a more active role.

“Governments need to encourage business strategies that help to narrow the digital divide,” Fleisher said. “Policies such as tax credits for providing Internet access to employees, and telecommuting can encourage businesses to provide low-cost Internet access for workers in their homes.”

According to Gartner, there are three major factors that prolong the digital divide in the United States:
• Access in the home – while half of US households have Internet access, the penetration rate differs drastically based on socioeconomic status, which is a combination of household income and education level. Research shows that 35% of lowest socioeconomic status Americans have Internet access, compared to 53% in the lower-middle bracket, 79% in the upper-middle bracket and 83% in the highest bracket.

• The broadband divide emerges based on high-speed access via bandwidth. “We may finally master Internet access in every home, but a new digital divide will gape before us if broadband access costs an additional $40 per month per household,” said Fleisher. “This will be the equivalent of having the moderate and upper classes in IMAX theatres while the underprivileged are still watching silent movies.”

• The experience divide – Once online, users have a ramp-up period of several months to several years, until they are fully realizing the benefits of the Internet. “If a 45-year-old person is learning how to read, he will not begin by reading Shakespeare,” said analyst Mark Smolenski, author of the report. “Similarly, becoming wired and becoming Internet-proficient is a skill acquired over time with frequent use.”

Gartner analysts said governments must carefully evaluate their own workplaces for opportunities to close the digital divide.

“In response to a shift to knowledge as the center of wealth production, most global enterprises will require major overhauls of governance, people management, workplace policies and workforce planning by 2005,” Smolenski said. “If government agencies maintain a traditional view of management, public sector employees and public service will face an increased risk of becoming obsolete.”

Gartner’s report provides detailed analysis on the digital divide and its social and economic implications for the US nation and its citizens.

Gartner, founded in 1979 and headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, achieved 1999 revenues of $734 million.

Gartner

TechRepublic

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