Chapter 5: Low-cost Computing and Related Ways of Overcoming the Global Digital Divide
INTRODUCTION ‘The single pervasive theme of the 21st century’, according to one observer: has already been decided. It is the Digital Divide and whether it can be bridged. Seldom has a potential social malaise engaged so many minds everywhere at the same time. It is as if concerned people around the world have simultaneously decided not only that the problem should be solved but that it actually can be. Everyone is getting in on the act, from the United Nations and the Group of Eight at the top, to university departments and community groups at the other end of the scale (Keegan, 2000). Our purpose in this chapter is not to add yet another opinion to the debate on whether the digital divide between rich and poor countries can or cannot be bridged. Our goal is rather to focus on the role that low-cost information technology (IT) can play in helping to bridge this gap. We do not attempt, however, to encompass all forms of IT, partly because one of them, telecommunications, has already been extensively debated from this point of view under the headings, for example, of low-earth-orbiting (LEOs) satellites, wireless local loop (WLL) technologies, mobile phones and undersea cables.1 What have received much less systematic attention, by contrast, are the various ways in which low-cost computers and other related devices can help to bridge the digital divide by enabling developing countries to gain greater access to the Internet and the World Wide Web. In seeking to describe these...
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