For much of the past decade, policy leaders and social scientists have grown increasingly concerned about a societal split between those with and those without access to computers and the Internet. The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration popularized a term for this situation in the mid-1990s: the "digital divide." The phrase soon became used in an international context as well, to describe the status of information technology from country to country.
Underlying disparities are real, both within and among countries. The Benton Foundation, which promotes the public-interest use of communications technology, reports that by late 2001, 80 percent of American families with annual household income greater than $75,000 were online, compared with 25 percent of the poorest U.S. families. Total home Internet access was 55 percent for whites, 31 percent for African-Americans and 32 percent for Hispanics. Looking at the international picture, in most African countries less than 1 percent of the population is online. Not surprisingly, such disparity correlates highly with other measures of social and economic inequality.
This article was originally published with the title Demystifying the Digital Divide.