Digital Divide

By: Claudio Buttice | Reviewed by John MeahCheckmark | Last updated: July 6, 2021

What Does Digital Divide Mean?

The digital divide refers to the difference between people who have easy access to the latest and most modern communication and information technology and those who do not. In recent times, internet access is increasingly seen as the primary advantage that many technologies can grant in that it represents a staggering store of knowledge and resources. In this sense, the term now generally refers to those who have access to internet and those who do not.

The digital divide was once used to describe different rates of technology adoption by different groups and included old communication technology such as telephone and television.

Today, the digital divide may be shrinking as cheaper mobile devices proliferate and network coverage improves worldwide.


Techopedia Explains Digital Divide

The digital divide goes well beyond the mere differences in modernization between richer areas of the world and less industrially developed countries. Even within the richest areas, a digital divide may, for example, exist whenever there is a lack of access to broadband and/or fiber optic connections due to the absence of a proper infrastructure (such as rural areas, city outskirts).

Another common cause of the digital divide is the significant differences between socioeconomic groups, which becomes evident in the form of reduced access to certain technologies. These differences may be due to the reduced ability to use the newest technologies in less educated populations or in certain age groups (e.g., the elderly), or to the economic barriers that prevent access to higher-performance computers and software.

The digital divide may appear in a number of different contexts, including:

  • Differences between rural and urban internet access (lack of infrastructure, presence of geographical barriers, distant or remote areas.)

  • Socioeconomic differences between people of different races, age, income and education that affects their ability to access the internet.

  • Differences between developed, developing and emerging nations in terms of the availability of internet.

  • Differences in social stratification can lead some groups to get sidelined as they cannot or do not want to access the principal web resources where the information can be retrieved.

  • Segregation due to an inherent disadvantage in accessing the internet (such as the presence of physical, mental, or psychological disabilities). It also includes people who may have the necessary skills but cannot properly use the available software and hardware.

The presence of a significant digital divide prevents those on the less-served side of the divide from accessing many of the services that are now common and structural of modern society. For example, students who attend schools and universities where computers are insufficient or old may be restricted from having access to important documents and scientific papers, as well as critical software and tools used for research purposes.

People who do not have access to stable, high-speed connections may find themselves unable to access many services that are now considered to be of standard use, such as streaming/on-demand videos, webinars, video chats and virtual classrooms. The digital divide can represent a serious social issue in a world where education is becoming more and more virtualized, as the rising costs of data plans and late-gen smartphones and laptops may force many social groups to lag behind from childhood. Closing the digital divide is critical to making society more equitable, democratic and sustainable.

Several initiatives have been proposed by public, nonprofit and private organizations to close, or at least reduce, the digital divide at the national and international level. These initiatives include the One Laptop per Child Project (OLPC) introduced in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Linux4Africa project powered by the Freiburger Open Source Software Netzwerk (, as well as many national plans launched by governments across Europe, America and Asia.

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