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The term "digital divide" refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard to both their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities.

The digital divide reflects various differences among and within countries.

The ability of individuals and businesses to take advantage of the Internet varies significantly across the OECD area as well as between OECD and non-member countries. Access to basic telecommunications infrastructures is fundamental to any consideration of the issue, as it precedes and is more widely available than access to and use of the Internet.

Because of the current interest in these issues, both among governments and the public, the OECD has begun efforts to measure the digital divide. In addition to communications infrastructures, important indicators appear to be computer availability – and potentially the availability of alternative access through TVs or mobile phones – and Internet access (these are “readiness” indicators).

The digital divide among households appears to depend primarily on two variables, income and education. Other variables, such as household size and type, age, gender, racial and linguistic backgrounds and location also play an important role. The differences in PC and Internet access by household income are very large and increasing, but access in lower income groups is rising. Largely through its effects on income, the higher the level of education, the more likely individuals are to have access to ICTs.

Other important indicators concern differences in the profiles of countries, individuals and businesses that use, and make the most use of, the possibilities offered by the new information technologies and the Internet.

Because harmonised cross-country data collection does not exist for measuring some of the relevant phenomena, figures [presented] are often not comparable in terms of time and coverage. However, because access to and development of information, communication and e-commerce resources are increasingly viewed as crucial for economic and social development (for reasons of efficiency and because of network effects), OECD countries have begun to examine how best to ensure access for citizens, businesses and regions to these technologies and services.

To do so efficiently and effectively, it is important that governments have information on the nature and extent of the digital divide and on the kinds of measures that can help to overcome it.

Source Publication:
Understanding the Digital Divide, OECD, 200, page 5.


Statistical Theme: Information and communication technology

Created on Monday, August 5, 2002

Last updated on Wednesday, January 4, 2006