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Digital Inclusion

When we talk about digital inclusion, we're really talking about prevent digital exclusion.  As broadband deploys widely through a community, there is serious risk that it will worsen the exclusion of people who already play a peripheral role in the economy and society, whether due to poverty, lack of skills, prejudice or geography.  Deeper exclusion increases income inequality and all of the ills that go with it, while raising yet another obstacle to social mobility.  

See our archive of articles and research on digital inclusion.

Read Bridging the Gaps, a report on best practices for building digital literacy.

When we talk about digital inclusion, we're really talking about prevent digital exclusion.  As broadband deploys widely through a community, there is serious risk that it will worsen the exclusion of people who already play a peripheral role in the economy and society, whether due to poverty, lack of skills, prejudice or geography.  Deeper exclusion increases income inequality and all of the ills that go with it, while raising yet another obstacle to social mobility.

When markets fail to create infrastructure that benefits society, it is generally agreed that government or some non-commercial entity has a duty to do something about it.  This is why governments around the world offer investment tax credits, build roads and rails, and develop seaports and airports.  It is why, in every industrialized nation, the government has played a role in ensuring widespread deployment of electricity, telephone, radio and television service.   They view it as morally necessary, politically savvy and as increasing the growth potential of the entire market, thus raising living standards across the board.  And so it is with digital inclusion. 

Promoting Digital Inclusion

Typically, communities seek to promote digital inclusion through programs addressing:

  • Access.  When local governments conclude that market failure is preventing some segments of their population from having access to broadband, they respond by building networks or partnering with private-sector carriers to reduce business risk to acceptable levels. 
  • Affordability.  Even when broadband is available, the cost of the computer and connection can be out of reach for some parts of the population.  Communities typically respond by providing free access to computers and connections at public sites like libraries and community centers, as well as by subsidizing computers and connectivity for target groups.
  • Skills.  A computer and broadband connection are useless without the right skills, ranging from basic literacy to keyboarding, PC literacy and facility with the Web.  Communities respond to a skills gap with training programs for every age group in schools, libraries, community centers and special purpose facilities.

Challenges to Digital Inclusion

Every community that has addressed digital inclusion promotes the same set of achievements.  So many public-access computers installed at libraries, municipal buildings, community centers and convenience stores.  New classes on technology in primary and secondary schools.  But successful Intelligent Communities go deeper.  In crafting digital inclusion programs, they go beyond the basics to focus on fundamental change in the dynamics of digital exclusion:

  • Literacy and Numeracy.  The tools of the digital age require reasonable literacy and numeracy, or workarounds that allow illiterate segments of the population to access online services.  In industrialized nations, illiterate adults typically deny their inability for fear of humiliation and often develop elaborate strategies to avoid exposure.  Digital inclusion programs must make literacy and numeracy training readily available in ways that preserve the dignity of users.  Web sites designed to provide essential information to citizens can also be written on a low reading level and make use of colors and images to guide users.  In developing nations where literacy rates are far lower, communities have developed interesting workarounds to help reach the excluded.  
  • Relevance.  Not surprisingly, people who have never used a computer or accessed the Web may think they have nothing of value to offer.  (Older adults are more likely than young people to feel this way.)  Fortunately, local government and institutions are in a perfect position to change their minds.  Community Web sites can offer information and services on schools, careers, taxes, recreation, transit, health, and other topics important to people in their daily lives.  Where segments of a community have strong religious, ethnic or cultural identity, government can work with institutions from houses of worship to social clubs to bring them online. 
  • Capacity-Building. The long-term solution to digital exclusion is to have members of excluded groups – whether the working poor, the homeless, the elderly, an ethnic minority or caste – involved in providing access, delivering content and developing services.   Because they are members of the group, they understand the group's needs and interests better than any outsider can.  They also, it is to be hoped, have a deeper and more long-lasting commitment to moving their group from the digital periphery to the center.

1. Broadband Connectivity

2. Knowledge Workforce 

3. Digital Inclusion 

4. Innovation 

5. Marketing and Advocacy 

 

 
 
 

 

 


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