Defying Digital Divide

Defying Digital Divide

Higher Internet usage rates have put policy makers in a much better position to examine the digital divide, according to a new report from Queensland University of Technology

A decade of Internet uptake has finally given the Australian government a "valuable opportunity" to develop structural policies and programs that enable and support inclusive networks to support creation of an inclusive networked society.

With Internet usage rates having reached or exceeded 75 percent after 10 years of dispersion, policy makers are finally in a position to examine the benefits Internet users are actually enjoying and how policy can interact with and better capitalize on these benefits, according to a new report from Queensland University of Technology's Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation.

"The application of both social inclusion and social capital policy frameworks offers the Australian government a valuable opportunity to extend our understanding of the digital divide away from a narrow focus on issues of access and towards a broader understanding of the way the Internet and other ICTs can be used to increase and strengthen socially beneficial forms of online participation within the network society," the report Extending Australia's digital divide policy: an examination of the value of social inclusion and social capital policy frameworks by Tanya Notley & Marcus Foth says.

The report notes the "whole host of social, cultural and economic benefits of information and communication technology (ICT) access" imagined within early digital divide policies tended to be futuristic or based on the experiences of Internet 'early adopters': an elite minority. Now much higher usage rates have put policy makers in a much better position to examine the implications.

Digital divide policies have been historically rooted within the information society/knowledge economy credo and as such they have been largely motivated by the anticipated value of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) diffusion," the report says. "In Australia, a range of government policies have attempted to address inequalities in ICT access and use since the late 1990s. Despite these attempts, key determinants of Internet access such as age, income, educational attainment and Indigenous status are proving to be persistent, while more complicated and nuanced factors are likely to be determining the way people use the Internet."

The paper explores the implications of adding two concepts to policy deliberations: social inclusion and social capital, arguing both concepts highlight the way social, political and economic practices, institutions and relationships are increasingly organised through ICT mediated network structures.

The report notes people are starting to realize the opportunities that the Internet, mobile phones and other electronic tools provide for a seamless transition between global and local networks, online and offline communication and collective and networked interaction. It argues that examining new patterns of Internet use and adopting a holistic perspective would allow new forms and expressions of community and social formations to be taken into consideration.

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