Bridging the Global Digital Divide
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Bridging the Global Digital Divide

Jeffrey James

Employing a rigorous analytical framework, the author bases his analysis on the concept of international technological dualism. He argues that one possible solution to the problem is the availability of affordable technologies, such as low-cost computers, which are specifically designed for the income levels and socio-economic conditions of developing countries. He also emphasises that the most important aim of any policy measure should be to provide universal access to information technologies, rather than individual ownership. Depending on whether or not this divide can be bridged will, to a large degree, determine whether developing countries are able to attain higher levels of productivity, prosperity and global integration.
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Chapter 3: The Global Information Infrastructure Revisited

Jeffrey James


INTRODUCTION In a recent article in Third World Quarterly Linda Main (2001) points to two opposing scenarios regarding the impact of the Internet on inequality between rich and poor countries. On the one hand, ‘The hope has arisen that this internet ... will ultimately evolve into a Global Information Infrastructure (GII). The vision is that the GII will enable a massive accelaration of economic and social development that will narrow the poverty gap and eliminate many of the geographic obstacles to prosperity and equality’ (ibid., 85). On the other hand, however, given the tendency of the Internet to concentrate activity in one particular group, ‘there is a real risk that we are moving towards a two-tier technology society that perpetuates the old distinctions between North and South’ (ibid., 83). Which of these scenarios is the more likely depends, as Main rightly points out, on the availability to developing countries of the technological infrastructure that the Internet requires. In this regard, however, she focuses almost exclusively on just two types of enabling technologies, namely, undersea cable systems and satellites. And in so doing, we argue, she neglects a wide range of other forms of IT that - on account of their low cost - may enable at least some developing countries to lessen the digital divide that separates them from the advanced countries. The purpose of this chapter, accordingly, is to describe these other technologies and on the basis thereof to suggest that there may, indeed, be more hope than Main allows...

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