9 Sep 2012
Books/ Book Chapters
The Global Digital Divide as Impeded Access to Content
A book chapter in Trade Governance in the Digital Age, ed. by Burri and Cottier, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
The chapter seeks a re-conceptualisation of the global digital divide debate. It critically explores the predominant notion, its evolution and measurement, as well as the policies that have been advanced to bridge the digital divide. Acknowledging the complexity of this inequality, the paper aims at analysing the disparities beyond the connectivity and the skills barriers. Without understating the first two digital divides, it is argued that as the Internet becomes more sophisticated and more integrated into economic, social and cultural processes, a ‘third’ generation of divides becomes critical. These divides are drawn not at the entry to the net but within the net itself, and limit access to content. The increasing barriers to content, although of diverse nature, all relate to some governance characteristics inherent in cyberspace, such as global spillover of local decisions, regulation through code and proliferation of self- and co-regulatory models. It is maintained that as the practice of intervention intensifies in cyberspace, multiple and far-reaching points of control outside formal legal institutions are created, which threaten the availability of public goods and make the pursuit of public objectives difficult. This is an aspect that is rarely addressed in the global digital divide discussions, even in comprehensive analyses and political initiatives such as the World Summit on the Information Society. Yet, the conceptualisation of the digital divide as impeded access to content may be key in terms of ensuring real participation and catering for the long-term implications of digital technologies.