The Digital Divide:
Electronic Government or E-Government is the application of information and communication technologies (ICT) with the intention or purpose of upgrading and presenting government services to citizens, the public sector, private segment and the non-profit organizations globally. Digital divide is the terminology used to refer to the gap separating the social classes as concerns their knowledge and accessibility to modern technology especially as regards the computers and information technologies the internet inclusive. The digital divide draws a separation line between the wealthy and the poor, developed nations and developing nations and between the blacks and the whites.
The E-Government and the digital divide are essentially interrelated. With the increasing populations and the consequent need for government services by the public, information technology (IT) is an essential tool used to distribute and present services to people with ease, thereby boosting productivity and efficiency. However, the information technology in the government won’t have any significance if those who are intended to benefit from it have limited or no access to the service or are not able to utilize the service.
The first consideration for the implementation of E-Government is making all public offices computerized so as to enable them build a capacity for efficient service delivery and yield better governance catalyzed by technology. The second aspect to consider is the availability of citizen centric services by using the digital media. This may include establishing interactive government portals.
Currently, the nations with admirable e-governance schemes include New Zealand, Singapore and Canada. E-Government in the United States was particularly facilitated by the 1998 Government Paperwork Elimination Act as well as by President Clinton’s Memorandum on E-Government on December 17, 1999. The memorandum required that the most commonly used 500 forms by the citizens be made available online by December 2000. The memorandum further instructed agencies to formulate a secure E-Government infrastructure.
The world wide digital divide is not diminishing as quickly in spite of the complacency and misconceptions as inferred by researchers Fink, Kenny, Samuelson and Compaine. These researchers feel that the global digital divide is ending while other argues that the digital divide never existed. There are also those who believe that there is less importance to intervene on the matter, just as it is in the gap between the poor and the rich. Such perceptions are deceptive and influential to the interventionist strategy attitude. This indicates that less consideration is given to the digital divide making nations and their citizens miss the advantages of information and communication technology.
According to the A Nation Online: How Americas Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet (NTIA, 2002) article, the optimistic digital divide researchers in America are portrayed to argue that persons from poor backgrounds were making use of the Internet than those from wealthy families between 1998 and 2001. The article shows that Internet and computer literacy and application are growing much faster among the poor and marginal groups and the digital divide is narrowing rapidly. The article further argues that the digital divide is closing independently just as it is the case with automobiles.
According to World Bank researchers Kenny and Fink, there is likelihood for poor nations to adopt information technology much faster than developed nations. They argue that the growth rate of information technology in developing countries is much more likely to expand than in the developed nations. Any minor absolute increases in Internet use by the developing countries will be received as phenomenally huge growth rates, a suggestion that the digital divide will drastically reduce (James, 2008, p. 56-57).
To close the digital divide, developing countries’ governments should be actively involved in the efforts of bridging the gap (The Economist (2005). The digital divide in the United States has notably fallen. According to a Census Bureau survey, 37% of families in 1997 earning between $10,000 and $15,000 annually made use of computers. The number rose to 47% by 2001. 81% of families earning over $75,000 annually utilized computers in 1997 and this number rose to 88% by 2001 (Samuelson, 2002).
On the basis of historical analogy, Fink and Kenny argue that growth rates in computer usage are bound to remain higher among the developing nations. It is unclear whether these differences in growth rates between the developing and developed world will carry on in the future, equalize, or become the opposite as time goes (James, 2008). Fink and Kenny base their analogy on past growth rates of technology accessibility and diminishing accessibility gaps soon after establishment of new technology. It is not possible to rely on the Internet, television and telephone technologies to cover technology entirely. Fink and Kenny use simplistic predicting methodology rather than extrapolating between future rates of growth of Internet accessibility from two distinct technologies (James, 2008).
The accessibility to the Internet does not contribute to the digital divide. Instead, the digital divide is influenced by the utilization of the Internet and literacy necessary to make use of the Internet. Some technologies like mobile phones, telephone, and radio do not demand any skills in order to use them, while the Internet requires knowledge of computers, language skills and technical aptitude (James, 2008). Besides, a person has to be able to contextualize the information availed on the Internet and obtain information meaningful to their specific needs.
The Economist was authored somehow with an intention to challenge the beliefs of those who argue that the digital divide is swiftly closing. It is argued that the poor nations are on the dark side in that as the technology advances, the demand for advanced literacy and skills continues to rise, thereby widening the digital divide rather than closing it.
James (2008) in his article is against the notion that digital divide does not exist or is closing up. However, he lacks quantitative evidence and experimental evidence to reinforce his opposition. He deduces that A Nation Online: How Americas Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet (NTIA, 2002) article truth is not certain, but the claims generate complacency towards a digital divide thereby diverting focus from the matter. It would have been better for James to prove the incorrectness of the information rather than just alleging that the information may be true or false. He should have noted on the data’s reliance on information based on America rather than the world at large.
James (2008) gets support from Mason and Hacker (2003) in that information technology needs user competency different to radio and television and that only very few individuals in developing nations have these skills. Though the digital divide may be fading fast in some countries, it still does exist. Less has been done to determine the impacts of the introduction of Information Communication Technology in the third world and more practical research is necessary so as to realize the needs of developing nations’ inhabitants. James argues that a global perspective should be adopted when considering the digital divide and that looking beyond America would be the way out to help others close the digital divide.
The Understanding Digital Inequality article by Keil et al (2008) argues that the general behavioral models user approval for the socio economically underprivileged and socio economically privileged exist and relate to the digital disparity. In their view, the authors of this article feel the digital divide is the gap separating the advantaged and the disadvantaged in terms of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the utilization of information obtained from ICT. Being present in many countries, digital inequality differentiates the developed countries and the underdeveloped countries as concerns ICT.
Digital inequality is brought about by some socio economic factors such as the degree or the ability to obtain education and income. The government’s move to present access to technology and creation of conditions under which the technology will operate are crucial. To make the project successful, the government must realize the citizen’s user acceptance. Understanding Digital Inequality research is conducted to determine the significance of the citizen’s user acceptance of information technology initiatives offered by the government.
The methodology used comprises of survey tools for obtaining data from a particular community utilizing the government’s Internet project and then analyzing the results. The factors contributing to the difference in ICT application among the groups include the simplicity of use and the confidence, and they carry much weight on user acceptance. The theory of planned behavior used is applied in the analysis of the after-implementation effects of the ICT projects in the two groups.
Several factors in the model affecting the user acceptance either constructively or unconstructively include perceived behaviors, subjective norms and attitude. Attitude depends on the ulitirian factor which measures the significance of using ICT and the hedonic factor that measures the enjoyment derived from the use of ICT. Utilitarian results are linked with the socio benefited whereby ICT is utilized for the correct reasons, while the socio economically underprivileged employ ICT for entertainment or pleasure. This gap emerges because the disadvantaged use ICT for pleasure while the advantaged use ICT to obtain knowledge or for occupational reasons.
The distinction is a product of the social economically privileged persons being more learned and having ICT accessibility, giving them a better chance to use the technology. Friends spend much time together exchanging information and are thus more likely to influence an individual’s innovative behavior as opposed to the government.
The government can be influential by involving the community in discussions and training, and thus avail ICT to the community cheaply thereby benefiting the two groups. In so doing, the government will lower the digital inequality, and it may use methodical means to promote awareness and interest in the community. This will create a positive relationship to the subjective standards of the privileged and underprivileged in the society.
Confidence being another factor can affect both groups constructively and non-constructively. Confidence measures the execution of ICT projects and a person’s behavioral organization and affects ICT application in the society. Low confidence affects more the socio economically disadvantaged than the socio economically advantaged making the less-privileged experience difficulties accessing ICT, hence the digital divide. The ease or difficulty in using technology affects one’s belief and subsequent control on technology, though the socio economically disadvantaged are more affected by this. This is due to the fact that the socio economically privileged are more educated and thus able to cope with sophisticated features of the technology.
Technology is more theoretical than practical in most government initiatives. This renders availability, a barrier among the socio economically under privileged generating a digital inequality. A government ICT center is more likely to have limited computers raising the competition of which the less advantaged loses. A person’s innovative practice is influenced by the number of people in their network since the more educated and experienced people can influence the person positively thereby encouraging their innovation. The presence of computers at home gives more ICT benefits to the rich than the poor.
The methodology used here involves use of the planned behavioral model to examine factors that affect user acceptance. Several people in the community are supplied with Internet by the government on the basis of their social status and a survey is conducted and data analyzed indicating the difference in user acceptance between the groups. Ulitirian results, availability, attitude, ease of use and social composition show a heavy effect on the results, while the government has no effect.
Digital Inclusiveness by Lam and Lee (2006) is an article exploring methods of having efficacy in enabling older adults digital services accessibility. The study shows how countries such as the United States, Japan, U.K. and Singapore implement means in which their citizens access computers by providing training programs to the general public and introducing community wide computer facilities (Lam & Lee, 2006).
Training provisions on computer services and the introduction of computer centers in the community will guarantee computer access by everyone. Older adults comprise of a group of people who may have no interest in using computer services even when offered the community computers and trained on their use. The research focuses on studying the rate of willing use of computers by older adults. The study also helps to determine the perception of the old in creating a digitalized society (Constantine, 2009).
Questionnaires are used in this survey to make the targets answer the questions without fear of negative information. Lab experiments would provide the information on the understanding of computers by the old and their interest to learn about the computers (Edward, 2002). A margin of error is likely to occur however as is the case of sampled research (Constantine, 2009). Some interviewees may give insincere answers in order to please those asking in fear that they would otherwise miss the services. The lab method may appear to the target group as though they are being tested for brightness hence they may provide unreliable information for the future. Selection of the target group should have been based on education and occupation rather than just the age (Edward, 2002). The questionnaire survey should be aimed at obtaining specific information on the interest and usage of computers.
Wireless technologies are provided by municipalities to enhance access to the community including those who are physically challenged and those on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide. The municipal WiFi is provided at very low costs or free of charge to the society. This research was done to determine the level of accessibility and sensitivity of municipal wireless systems. The effectiveness of aims in eliminating the digital divide on the basis of disability is focused to determine how the policies toward the disabled fair and the legal insinuations of municipal WiFi systems. People with disabilities being already affected with discrepancies in income and education, extra marginalization of their communication and information accessibility brings about huge hindrances to their accessibility to important information needs, and communal participation (Baker et al, 2009).
Digital government and its effectiveness in public management reform by Asgarkhani (2005) highlights the usefulness of ICT education particularly on tertiary sector. The study looks at ways in which tertiary ICT educators develop learner’s skill and make them ready for job. The ICT skills acquired by the students are compared with what was required by the industry. The skills the students expect to learn are consistent with what they are taught. There are inconsistencies in their expectations in comparison to job market requirements. This study cannot be reliable since the results may not be true with all institutions and all ICT students.
According to Baker & Panagopoulos (2003), e-government is still complex in various perspectives including its design, practical implementation, awareness and effective design of responsive policies. With the rapidly rising technological and political implications, variations in the e-government procedures are evident. Their research overviews examples of various participation related e-government applications focusing on the relationship between state e-government projects and essential demographic, cultural or economic variables. Population of a state appears to be associated with the existence of e-government applications, very little of the anticipated relationships appear to function in incompatible manners based on the dataset used. Extra research basing on a larger dataset and more vigorous instrumentation is necessary.
Universal access to ICT would result to a world wide community of interaction, business, and learning leading to higher living standards and upgraded social welfare. The digital divide is however a threat to these results making most public policy makers discuss the most effective way to close the gap (Bélanger & Carter, 2009). Most of the research focuses on who has access to ICT and at times how the ICT is applied by those who access it. Bélanger and Carter examine the affected and the effects of the digital divide at three levels; the individual level, organizational level and national level.
Gascó (2005) in his article Exploring the e-government gap in South America addresses the underdevelopment of the e-governance in South America. He feels that the digital divide is prominent in Latin American nations and that implementation of efficient actions is required to improve the accessibility and utilization of ICT in communal services and e-governance within the South American region.
Hampton (2007) in his article Neighborhoods in the network society: the e-neighbors study examines internet as part of daily neighborhood interactions and the contexts in which the use of Internet assists in the creation of local social ties. Internet and community researches show that ICT presents new chances for social interaction, as well as increasing privacy by enclosing people in their closets. The study focuses on closing the gap between the parochial and electronic worlds. Experience in using the Internet increases the dimension of local social networks and email communication with local networks.
Helbig et al (2009) article Understanding the complexity of Electronic government: Implications from the digital divide literature has it that theoretically and empirically, e-government and the digital divide are interrelated. Studies concerning the e-government and the digital divide carry crucial parallels and potential interactions essential in comprehending e-government initiatives and policies in a better perspective subsequently for enhancing efficient digital schemes. Model and theory developments, understanding users and determinants of demand are some recommendations inferred from this research.
James, (2008) in his article Digital divide complacency: misconceptions and dangers discuss the global digital divide. The article confronts the perceptions that information technology can be easily equalized with the earlier dispersal of consumer durable goods, and that the divide can be varnished by redefining the matter, and that the global divide can be examined in absence of basic knowledge in innovation studies, technology and development, and the dismissal of process modernizations.
The challenges of redressing the digital divide by Kvasny & Keil (2006) evaluates the works by Atlanta and LaGrange cities in redressing the digital divide. They analyzed how the target populations and service providers responded to the two initiatives, how these responses worked to reproduce the digital divide, and the teaching for future digital divide programs. They found a reinforcement of the status quo. However, there lacked mechanisms for advancement. They inferred that Atlanta and LaGrange programs could be classified as successful since they provided access and basic computer literacy to people.
In conclusion, the digital divide still exists in most countries, and for there to be an effective e-governance, more efforts in providing the resources and knowledge to the public as regards information technology must be put in place. Awareness on the use and the benefits of e-governance should be created in the community.
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