Donovan White, Columbus Communications Jamaica, on the digital divide

InsightaaS: The phrase ‘digital divide,’ which was in vogue in North America in the latter part of the 1990s, is not often used in conversation today. A decade or two ago, we worried that the progress of the digital economy might be stalled by the inability of the Internet to reach all segments of the economy; we wondered how to extend the reach of the web to all businesses and individuals, so that the Internet would truly be a universal platform for the distribution of information and for the facilitation of commerce.

We rarely focus on the digital divide today: we assume that because we can transmit information via multiple devices from Toronto to Toledo to Tokyo and back, the digital divide has been eliminated by ubiquitous access. This is a fallacy. At the same time that we assume that the “world wide web” stretches to all of the world’s inhabitants, we also assume that the global economy will be buoyed by the twin forces of cloud-based, frictionless commerce and increased economic activity from emerging economies – but there are gaps in web coverage that will impede this influx of internet-based trade from emerging centres. In this post, Donovan White, VP marketing for Columbus Communications in Jamaica, highlights ongoing issues in a digital divide that may not be evident in North America, but which certainly affects the global economy.

Over the course of the past decade, major headway has been made in terms of technological innovation in the telecommunications industry. Between advancements in both submarine and terrestrial fiber (optic), broadband technology, cloud services, and information and communications technology (ICT) in general, industry leaders have managed to further technological capacity significantly. Unfortunately, however, the desired benefits of these breakthroughs have not shared the same vaulting success as the technology itself, particularly in much of the developing world.
Due to a lack of cohesiveness within both the public and private sectors, a slower than desired response from regulatory agencies, high entry barriers, widespread poverty, and a perceived stubborn refusal to implement change, many regions — especially those in the Caribbean and Latin America [LATAM] — have lagged in joining the globalized knowledge economy. As the industry moves forward, it becomes less a question of invention and more about implementation; rather than focusing their efforts solely on devising the next big thing, organizations on every level must now work to bridge the gap created by the ever-present “digital divide,” a term that denotes the inability that exists in regions where ICT and broadband are unequally accessible, or simply not utilized to be most effective, throughout entire populations.
The foremost issue with digital usage in these regions is that it has been directed almost exclusively at mainstream consumers, which has not led to a profound impact on all areas of society. This is a problem for two reasons in particular: one being that low-income segments are often unable to benefit from the services being offered, as PC-home penetration still plagues a sizeable portion of the populace; and two being that without the involvement of stakeholders at large, the market would be mainly entertainment-based with no focus on the industry’s realizable potential — nation-building.
The Disconnect Between Technology and Accessibility

In and of itself, broadband and ICT are now considered to be essential resources — alongside such things as water, transportation, healthcare, etc. — in this modern, globalized society…

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