in an increasingly virtual world information and communication technologies (ict) are being seen as a solution to almost every problem. Access to them has become a barometer of development. Computers and access to Internet per thousand population decides the country's hierarchy in the development pyramid. A village with a computer is seen to have arrived. A government which offers most services on-line is seen as efficient. But the fact remains that there will always be that huge gap between the haves and the have nots, between the today's developed and developing nations, and the nature of this inequality will keep changing.
When the world "digital divide" was coined it was more in context of access to computers. At that time access to a computing device was the sole criteria. But that changed with the advent and spread of Internet. By the time some of the developing world reached the level of 5-6 computers per thousand people, to claim there position as digital haves, the definition had changed. Now not only access to a device, but also access to Internet became the deciding factor. Most in the industrialised world had access to Internet. The next round of "development" of the developing world had to be undertaken.
Today most of the developing countries have fair level of Internet penetration. So the digital gap must have narrowed. The answer is no. Because access to Internet is not just the only criteria. At what speed due you get that access is. Broadband is the name of the game. Seven of the top 10 countries in terms of broadband penetration are today in Europe. The gap if anything, has grown.
There is also the issue of Internet governance. The us remains firmly in control of the Internet's domain name system. This is resented by developing countries. For good reason. Brazil, for example, relies on the Internet for 90 per cent of its tax collections.
There is another important issue: two-thirds of the world's web traffic comes from the us; Japan is a poor second with 7 per cent, while Germany constitutes about 5 per cent. So, English is the Net's main language. Of course web-based tools such as Transparent Language or Babelfish helps one get the gist of a site's contents in a variety of languages. But not everybody likes the idea, for good reason.
As the Internet assumes hegemony over the world's communications systems, these contradictions will come into greater relief.
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