Rapid technological change typically occurs in an uneven fashion. Certainly, there is not doubt about the unprecedented speed of progress in the use of the new information and communication technologies (ICTs)-but patterns of diffusion are less clear and change fast. Given the pervasive impact of ICTs on society, there is grave concern about whether the rapid and uneven spread of ICTs will further widen “digital divide” that has already emerged between industrialized and developing countries.
Since the conditions enabling the spread of ICTs vary or are simply unmet-in many parts of the developing world, differing speeds of diffusion will inevitably mean a widening digital divide. Then, if ICT use proves to be associated with economic gains, that widening digital divide can only reinforce and deepen the existing socio-economic divide between the industrialized and developing countries.
Measuring digital divide The term “digital divide” is used to describe situations in which there is a marked gap in access to or use of ICT devices measured by, for example, the number of phone lines per inhabitant, or the number of Internet users, or of mobile telephones in he population. A distinction is commonly made between a digital divide within a country and one between countries. An example of the former is the divide that usually exist between young and old, male and female, the more and the less educated, the more and the less wealthy, and urban and rural locations.
In general, the digital divide refers to that between industrialized and developing countries-although comparisons of ICT use at different spots on the world map are now almost as significant as inter-country comparisons. For example, regarding Internet usage, Kuala Lumpur may soon be closer to convergence with Sydney or Milan than with rural Malaysia.
Technology transfer is one aspect of the divide which has distinct policy implications. Access to information for application to economic and social ends has never been easier. On the other hand, the core knowledge permitting technological advance is in the hands-or rather the heads-of major private enterprises. The implication is that though a national strategy on ICTs is essential for countries, national strategies alone are unlikely to solve the problem of the digital divide in the absence of other measure to assist the transfer of technology.
As Sachs has observed: “Today’s world is divided not by ideology but by technology… A small part of the globe, accounting for some 15% of the earth’s population, provides nearly all of the world’s technology innovations. A second part, involving perhaps half of the world’ population, is able to adapt these technologies in production and consumption. The remaining part, covering around a third of the world’s population, is technologically disconnected, neither innovating at home nor adopting foreign technologies”.
Economic advantages of ICTs particularly relevant to development The Internet expands the scope and scale of market opportunities. By acquiring knowledge of markets and prices, etc., small firms could expand their market presence or improve their performance. Lower barriers to entry for new businesses start-ups in terms of lower physical equipment costs and capital costs are important for would-be entrepreneurs.
In-intangible products such as software, knowledge and innovation are more critical than access to financial capital. Similarly, telecenters, or simple mobile home rental, can create many jobs with minimal investments. ICTs encourage the outsourcing of activities that could be captured by developing countries as they fit into global value chains.
developing countries could exploit their own comparative advantages, one of which might be their location in a complementary time zone. Closer, more integrated relations between developed and developing countries could result. The development of information-based products allows developing countries to leapfrog into higher-value-added, higher-income industries.
The language of 75% of the content of the Internet is English, and this is both an opportunity and an obstacle for developing countries seeking to develop their own Internet content, and to trade in, for example, indigenous music or other cultural or information-based products. When the Internet use rises in a given location, the Internet becomes local and local content then predominates over foreign content.
Influence of developing countries’ policy priorities on successful entry into the information economy Differences in national income do not fully explain the differences in the spread and use of ICTs. Several other influencing factors may be traced back to policy guidance and direction. Analysis of 15 national cases in the ILO’s World Employment report 2001 found that progress in three policy spheres- education and skills, industry and trade policy, and infrastructure- was particularly relevant in developing countries that have made substantial inroads into the information economy.
To begin with, however, it is important to have a national strategy on ICTs. Indeed, the Internet itself originated in the 1960’s as part of a US Department of Defense national strategy on military research. Governments that have recognized the significance of ICTs for economic growth and employment generation have not been inclined to take a piecemeal approach. Rather, they have evolved a comprehensive coherent national strategy to harness the technologies to these beneficial ends.
Successful strategies do not seek to replace the dynamism of markets with the heavy hand of the State, but they do acknowledge that the market alone is unlikely to spread the advantages of ICTs broadly enough. The most comprehensive strategies place emphasis on equitable access of ICTs by citizens (Malaysia and Estonia), online services of the State as a means of improving governance (China and Chile), as well as economic uses of ICTs.
Mobile Internet units visit disadvantaged schools in Malaysia, for example; Estonia has attained 100% connectivity on school system; and, in China, local governments services are being out online as a means of demonstrating the technologies’ uses to ordinary citizens.
A new era of accessibility: or is it? Accessibility has always been important to retailers, politicians, and geographers. Individual access refers to one’s ability to reach or obtain something (usually something desirable such as paying job, medical care, or entertainment), and in the non-virtual world achieving access-often even access to information-requires physical mobility. In both physical and virtual access, one must know of the existence of a destination that will meet one’s needs, be aware of how such a destination might be found, and be able to reach the destination.
If connecting to the information superhighway from anywhere gives a person access to everywhere, the physical locations of the origin and destination of that connection do not matter. What remains germane to one’s accessibility to information on the Internet is knowledge of how to get a particular destination and awareness of what is available there.
Grounded geographies shape the Internet guiding the placement of IT infrastructure such that-at regional and even intra urban scales-physical access to the Internet closely resembles pre-Internet patterns of spatial access to goods and services. But physical access to Internet infrastructure alone does not equate to access. Pre-Internet geographies shape constraints on individual’s accessibility to usable information and knowledge on the Internet in other ways as well.
The production of Internet content takes place in selected urban locations, and the content itself often reflects its geographic origins. A great deal of information on the Internet is also targeted to users in particular locations. And some nation-state's have begun to regulate the Internet content that citizens within that boundaries can access. The ways in which people and institutions adopt and use the Internet also reflect pre-Internet geographies, such that one’s ability to obtain groceries, for example, via the Internet differs by geographic location.
Finally, we note the importance of geographic context in people’s ability to understand and usefully apply information accessed via the Internet. We cite the example of email as testimony to the role of context in Internet access.
Getting a Job Online Job search on the Internet
One might expect that advertising jobs on the Internet is a way to extend job opportunities to all qualified workers and to expand social and geographic diversity in an employer’s applicant pool. Because information is so central to the employer-applicant matching process, Internet job boards like monster.com, hotjobs.com and Yahoo! jobs, appear to be perfect antidote to the limited information and limiting social contacts of people’s geographically constrained social networks.
One might assume that online job postings by-pass social networks by giving people direct access to job information to which they would not otherwise have access. In this utopian view, the Internet holds potential to provide people with information with which they can improve their livelihoods through access to better jobs. This Internet-based process would break down traditional labor market segments and would eventually lead to a more open labor market.
Interim Findings on Universal Access to ICTs: The case of Carmona and Puerto Prinsesa
Close to decade has elapsed since the passage of policies that liberalized the telecommunications industry. Among the benefits it has brought has been the greater variety of services, higher telephone densities and to some extent lower prices (Serafica, 2000). The evaluation of its impact, however, has tended to look only at macro indicators (i.e. teledensities, percentage of line targets achieved) and not on what is really happening at the household level.
As we celebrate the coming of new technologies that purport to bring in the age of information, little empirical evidence has been put forth to show how it has actually affected the lives of ordinary people. Most of the evidence has been anecdotal at best, and aggregate evidences through national statistics only provide a fuzzy picture of where ICTs are being accessed and not in terms of how they are used. Moreover, they don’t tell us what hinders people from using them and who are most disadvantaged.
Access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) has often been simply considered in terms of geographic access and affordability. However, some argue that access to ICTs, and basic needs in general, are not solely limited to this, but should also factor in the capabilities of people to make use of these resources (Sen. 1999). Considering the advancements in technologies, the reduction in prices of services, and the increasing ubiquity of ICTs, one issue is whether people are actually using these technologies.
This investigation looks at location, gender, educational attainment, income and age as variables which influence the use of certain ICTs, such as telephones, cell phones, text messaging, personal computers (PCs) and email. It is based on preliminary data collected from individuals in urban barangays in Carmona, Cavite (n=62) and Puerto Princesa City, Palawan (n=53)
Location and ICT use The two areas, Carmona and Puerto Prinsesa, were selected because they are different from each other. Carmona is a rapidly industrializing municipality that is located very close to Metro Manila. In this respect, it is an area where new ICTs and competition among the various industry players are more observable. The lay out of the land is also relatively flat and much smaller compared to Puerto Prinsesa, and very few of its barangays are considered rural.
The City of Puerto Princesa (City of Princess Port, Filipino Lungsod ng Puerto Princesa,), the capital of Palawan is a first class city in the Philippines. According to the 2007 census, it has a population of 210,508 people in 33,306 households. It is famous for its crocodile farm, underground river and numerous dive spots. It is also the second largest city in the Philippines in terms of total land area. Puerto Princesa is home to several world-class tourist spots. Among them is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with its underground river. As the city was recently declared a highly urbanized city per Section 29 of the Local Government Code of the Philippines, it is no longer under the administrative supervision of the provincial government of Palawan, and its residents are no longer eligible to vote for provincial officials.
Puerto Prinsesa on the other hand is one of the larger cities in the country with respect to land area. Despite being a city, many of its barangays are still rural. There’s also a wide variety in barangays, with some located in the coast, some in farm lands, and others in mountainous areas. In selecting these areas, the research intends to capture various conditions that strategies for universal access should be able to overcome.
In general the sample (table 1) shows that as ability to use ICTs are concerned, more people use phones, than cell phones and they use personal computers and email the least. Also, more people in Puerto Prinsesa have used the telephone and email even though they are farther than Carmona from Manila. Also of note is that the proportion of people in Carmona who have used cell phone is already equal to the proportion who have used a telephone. This indicates how rapid people have learned to use the cell phone despite how recent the technology was developed.
Gender and ICT Use Table 2 shows that except for the use of telephones where men have a slight advantage, women are more likely to be using cell phones, SMS, computers, and email. That Filipino women have more access to ICTs bodes well development, because women, being the primary caregivers, are more likely to transit these benefits to the rest of the family and community. This may also have implications as far as using tapping women as conduits of information and knowledge, or as intermediaries for spreading know-hows found in the Internet.
Table 3: Educational Attainment and Percentage ICT Use
Education and ICT use Clearly, from table 3, education is also a factor in the usage of ICTs. More than half of those who reach college have used PCs and cell phones, and all have used a telephone. In contrast only 73% of those who reached elementary level have use telephone and only 7% have used PC. The data above shows that a digital divide exist within communities and not between areas alone. Educational attainment is apparently one of them. For one, those who could afford to get a more decent education are the rich. On the ether hand, the poor are more likely to drop out school early.
This implies that efforts to bridge the information gap through the access and use of ICTs should begin as early as possible, such as in the primary level or else, a significant number of people may never gain the knowledge on the use of these technologies. This is especially important because the school system is a logical access point especially with respect to the Internet.
Income and ICT Use Table 4 shows that close to 70% of those with incomes less than P5000 per month have used a phone and 62% have use a cell phone, this proves that even poor households have a need for these technologies. In the past, the reason provided by telephone provides for not installing lines in some areas was the argument that there was no market. If market is simply a function of profitability, this may be true.
However, there are people who need and use these services; hence there is a market for these services even among the poor. This is important, because evidently the use of various ICTs is greatly influenced by income. The higher is the household's income, the more likely that individuals of that household has used telephone, cell phone or computer. This implies that the affordability of these services are still crucial to their accessibility.
While competition has brought down prices to some extent, some people still consider the cost of owning telephones, cell phones and computers as prohibitive. It is hoped, that with the onset of newer technologies, like cell phones, which makes the cost of providing universal access less expensive, the needs of ordinary people may eventually be met without companies having to sacrifice its bottom line.
Age and ICTs The elderly (aged 50 and above) are less likely to use telephones, cell phones and computers. Some see new technologies as “para sa bata,” or just for the young, and that they are already too old, “matanda na kami”. For the elderly and less educated, what may be key is indirect access to technology, and to the information and knowledge that comes with it. Indirect access occurs when there are other people in the household who use the ICT.
For example, some people ask their children to email or text for them, and in return, some people send messages through these same people who then relay them back to the “non-users”. In other cases, other users within the household may actually help bring the elderly to embrace and “learn new tricks” and use the ICTs on their own.