The Digital Divide Bridged By Linux
Posted 12 Jan 2002 at 09:33 UTC by nymia
"The information revolution has brought rapid transformation in the
economies of many industrialized countries, and sweeping promises of a
better quality of life for all. However, people living in the vast
majority of other countries have been left untouched and unimpressed by
this 'revolution' and its promises, since it has failed to improve
their lives." [ 1 ]
Within the boundaries of these countries, the promise of having access
to internet resources have been mostly to the ones who have the means.
What has been considered a technical tool for technical people are now
considered necessary resource. With all the information stored, be they
scientific, economic or political in content, access to these resources
must be provided at all levels.
What Is The Digital Divide?
A good definition of the Digital Divide is best described in terms of
access to electronic resources. There is a good definition of it and
is shown below.
Simply put, "the digital divide" means that between countries and
between different groups of people within countries, there is a wide
division between those who have real access to information and
communications technology and are using it effectively, and those who
don't. [ 2
Basically, access to electronic resources start with having electronic
devices. And these devices can either be personal or community owned,
depending on location. Most often, these devices are personally owned
by mostly those who are financially capable. Leaving the others to
either go for shared or completely just forget it.
When the internet exploded in the 90's. The internet became one of the
primary source of information. From its acceptance, a lot of
people from all walks of life started building information structures
on top of it. As a result, with all the information that were built,
devices used to access these information were elevated to the level of
a 'must have.'
With all these constructions, more and more people went and browsed the
internet. A quick information below show how many people connect to the
There are an estimated 429 million people online globally, but
even this staggering number is small when considered in context.
For example, of those 429 million, fully 41% are in North America.
Also, 429 million represents only 6% of the world's entire
population. Other facts:
When assessed by region, Internet use is dominated by North Americans:
- The United States has more computers than the rest of the world
- 41% of the global online population is in the United States &
- 27% of the online population lives in Europe, the Middle East and
(25% of European Homes are online)
- 20% of the online population logs on from Asia Pacific
(33% of all Asian Homes are online)
- Only 4% of the world's online population are in South America
[ 3 ]
Who's Not Online
Not everybody went and browsed the Net though. There were people, those
who were considered not impressed or found it useful. And there were
those who simply didn't have the necessary means of getting access.
Results from a study shown below reveal interesting numbers.
The majority of adults without Internet access say they are likely to
stay away from the Internet. A third of non-users (32%) say they
definitely will not get Internet access. Another 25% of non-Internet
users say they probably will not venture online. Specifically, Pew
- Half the adults in America do not have Internet access and 57% of
those are not interested in going online.
- 32% of those without Internet access now say they definitely will
not get Internet access. That comes to about 31 million Americans.
- Another 25% of non-Internet users say they probably will not
- 12% of those without Internet access say that they definitely will
- 29% of non-Internet users say they probably will get Internet
- In contrast a substantial majority of those under 30 who say they
plan to get access, seniors who are not online show little inclination
of going online. The expense of going online still looms as a major
issue for them.
There are several facts that can lifted from it and one of it was the
issue of cost of going online. It is clear though that access to the
internet means an electronic device connected to the Web will incur
some cost. If cost is the primary determinant, a resulting class
structure will mostly like form around it, those who can and those who
cannot, called the less fortunates.
To be on the less fortunate side of the divide means
that there is less opportunity to take part in our
new information-based economy, in which many more
jobs will be related to computers. It also means that
there is less opportunity to take part in the education,
training, shopping, entertainment and communications
opportunities that are available on line. Now that a
large number of Americans regularly use the Internet
to conduct daily activities, people who lack access to
those tools are at a growing disadvantage.[ 5 ]
While Americans are becoming increasingly connected,
there are still significant discrepancies in access:
Blacks and Hispanics, for example, are less connected
anywhere than Whites are at home. Those groups with
lower access rates at work or home are much more likely
to use the Internet at a public place such as a school,
library, or community center. They are also more likely
to use the Internet to take courses or to conduct job
searches than other groups. [ 7
Filling The Gap
Fortunately, there are people and institutions who are commited in
resolving the Digital Divide issue. As of today, there are a number of
organizations already working on narrowing the gap. One of the
organizations, named DDN contains
necessary information about it.
In this period of intense research and development (R&D) in the
Internet industry, and as content migrates to various information
devices, now is the time to develop the tools and guidelines that will
make it easier for everyone to use the Internet. History has shown that
striving to make technologies accessible to specific constituencies
leads to advances that benefit everyone. 
And there is of course, the President of the United States, who is very
concerned about the current situation. Encouraging all sectors
concerned to look into it and work up a way of addressing the issues.
Imagine if computers and Internet connections were as common in every
community as telephones are today; if all teachers had the skills to
open students' eyes and minds to the possibilities of new technologies;
if every small business in every rural town could join worldwide
markets once reserved for the most powerful corporations -- just
imagine what America could be.
Today is the opening of this national call to action. More than 400
organizations already have signed the pledge, and this is just the
beginning. For the rest of the year we will try to inspire hundreds,
indeed, thousands, more to sign up. We will work with Congress, across
party lines, to build support for budget and legislative initiatives to
meet these goals. And you heard Senator Mikulski outline some of them.
We have to be willing at the national level to do our part. This is a
worthy, federal investment.
The Bridge Called Linux
We do that when we help young people; when we help seniors in rural
America get medical advice over the Internet; when we create tools that
allow people with disabilities to open new doors of possibility. We
give our neighbors a chance to participate in this astonishing American
renaissance, we have done something that would have made Dr. King
proud. And the new technology of the digital age gives us a chance to
do it for more people, more quickly, more profoundly, than at any time
in human history. It's up to us to seize that opportunity.
Addressing the issue means coming up with several solutions needed to
close the gap. One of them is to look for ways that would have the
following effects on hardware, software and peopleware cost:
- Shift the cost away from the consumer.
- Lower the cost making it affordable.
- Minimize parts to near zero cost.
- Subsidize the cost.
- Use parts having zero cost.
With respect to locating parts with lowered cost on software. There is
one candidate the would evenly fit the requirement. As of this writing,
there are several OS are out there having those properties, but there
is only one having a large developer base and community scattered
around the globe that can act as support contacts. The name is called
Since the solution would require a large area of implementation with
a range of users dominated by simple and ordinary types. Punctuated by
technical and experienced types. The solution would then be designed
to meet the requirements of the dominant types, having the property
of 'ease of use.'
Linux has the most potential in the delivery of service to these types
of users. One can only see the benefits derived from the use of it.
Just imagine the possibility of having a end-to-end global network made
from 'free' and 'open' software. The possibilities are just endless.
Bridging the Digital Divide requires an enormous amount of work for the
techonology sector. A huge responsibility is placed on those who wish
to take up the challenge. Current technologies in software,
specifically, the Linux OS is a good candidate to play the role.
Multiple Postings, posted 12 Jan 2002 at 10:04 UTC by nymia »
Pardon for the multiple postings. I sent an email to Raph about it.
Hoping it would be corrected.
Your own statistics show that only 10% of those without internet access plan to go online. If we can make conclusions about the cost
of getting online from these numbers, as you say, then we can conclude that at least 90% of those who want internet access can afford
it. That looks like a *good* number to me, not a bad one.
Imagine if 90% of those who wanted college could afford it?
Pick me! Pick me!, posted 12 Jan 2002 at 10:37 UTC by jdub »
: That is an easy one. We'd open more colleges /
universities (consider the parallel for a moment). :-)
Your own statistics show that only 10% of those without internet
access plan to go online. If we can make conclusions about the cost
of getting online from these numbers, as you say, then we can
conclude that at least 90% of those who want internet access can
afford it. That looks like a *good* number to me, not a bad one.
Not exactly true. Using statistical theory, let's pick a random
person X from the US population, and define the following propositions:
I = "X has Internet access"
O = "X plans to go online"
A = "X can afford Internet access"
Can we deduce from the statistics that P(A | O) >= 90%? Let's see:
P(A | O) = 1 - P(~A | O) >= 1 - P(~I | O) (~A => ~I, so P(~A | O)
<= P(~I | O)) = 1 - 1 (since O => ~I) = 0. Not very informative.
The way I see it, the real problem lies not in software or
hardware, but the fact that in order to be connected to the
Internet, you need to subscribe to a paying service -- an ISP, a
university, a BBS, a Net cafe, whatever. Or did I miss something?
real problem, posted 12 Jan 2002 at 23:52 UTC by Malx »
Real poblem is devices. (IMHO)
Have you heard about cheap digital net access devices in France ? (They have existed longer then 10 years if I am not
It whould be great if someone from France will describe them here...
It whould be just great to have cheap or free palm-size access devices (may be something like Jornado or Ipaq with
mobil net access).
I thinks it is not real problem with payment for net access - you already need to do it for Phone and TV :)
The problem for other countries - they need to pay for links to US, Europe etc
So now we have different calculation for external and internal traffic - internal (in Ukraine) is free with most of ISPs (we have
hundreds of them actually, but they are really small :).
What do you thinks - Is it possible to use same solutions as was with Phone? To install public booths on streats, so anyone
could use it for checking mail, browsing Internet.
Minitels, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 01:59 UTC by tjansen »
The system was/is called Minitel (in Germany there was a very similar,
but less popular system called BTX). These things are basically text
terminals used over a phone line with minimal graphics capabilities
that are comparable to TeleText/VideoText. The service is not
comparable to the Internet, it's more like the pre-GUI CompuServe or
similar online services. Everything is centralized and operated by the
local telecom monopoly. Creating your own service is complicated and
expensive - you can make money with Micropayment though, all charges
appear on the customer's telephone bill.
Assumptions, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 02:29 UTC by neil »
OK, then until you get more meaningful statistics, that speak directly on point, they add nothing to the argument.
Replies, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 10:44 UTC by nymia »
tk, I think your comments make sense, I can see there are missing
premises in the framework, I found one missing piece in your comments. I
knew from the beginning the framework wasn't strong enough in the sense
that it is somewhat a challenge to focus only on Linux under the Digital
Divide issue. There are in essence, so many items that can be taken and
presented in a logical manner, but it would probably be too high and
wide to cover them all though. As a result, the framework was
constructed with only enough premises and supporting facts needed to
make it stand.
Regarding neil's comments, yes, the numbers I presented are somewhat
lacking. Though I provided references for the ones I presented, I
believe there were lots of statistical information relating to other
aspects of it as well.
Malx, I'm not really familiar about the situation in Ukraine, maybe you
could let us know what is going there. I have two friends who came from
Belarus and Romania and they told me what it was like there, but that is
too far from Ukraine though. Anyway, it's nice you posted here. I really
find it interesting to read about what other people from different
countries has to say about it.
In not sure if the mpawlo in slashdot is the same guy here but, hey,
thanks! Never thought it would make it on slashdot.
In defense, I would like to present my arguments, but I would like to
have more time to verify them. I'll present them later.
I submitted the link it to Slashdot, and it has spurred quite a
The quality of the comments is varied as always, but there are some very
Here is my comment from Slashdot:
First should know that there is a project called Open Economies, run by
James Moore. Anyone
can join the project.
I will just try to spark some discussion, here is a few points to
consider followed by my own thoughts on this matter. Open Economies
participants will recognise the content of this submission.
I think theses issues are worth to address to try to find some common
than again, maybe we will not) to take action from.
1. Is there a gap? What is it then?
2. Where is the gap? Are we talking about the gap worldwide in developing
countries or even on a national level in welfare countries with internal
differences and gaps (i e USA or Sweden)?
3. Should we bridge the gap? (Should you answer no to this question, the
rest of the questions may not be useful.)
4. Do we have a responsibility as humans to brdige the gap? Why / why
5. Are there any negative consequences of bridging the gap? Do we (i e
rich filthy bastards) profit from the differences?
6. Are there any positive consequences of bridging the gap Do we (again
rich filthy bastards) profit from minimising the differences?
7. How do we bridge the gap in short time with lack of funds?
8. How do we bridge the gap in long time with lack of funds?
9. How do we bridge the gap in long time with lots of funds?
10. Name one measure you can initiate today to bridge the gap. Will you
- - -
I will try to address some issues to get the
discussion going. I hope you do not mind me doing this.
>1. Is there a gap? What is it then?
Yes. There is a gap in countries and between countries and between
continents in respect of:
3. general IT knowledge and
If one of the factors 1-4 is missing in any given community, the digital
gap will eventually evolve. In a community with high rates of 1-4, the
digital development will flourish.
>2. Where is the gap? Are we talking about the gap worldwide in developing
>countries or even on a national level in welfare countries with internal
>differences and gaps (i e USA or Sweden)?
I think the gap is relative and could be applied and considered both on a
domestic and international level.
>3. Should we bridge the gap? (Should you answer no to this question, the
>rest of the questions may not be useful.)
I think we should consider the world throught the John Rawls veil of
ignorance. Rawls is well-known to all scholars of jurisprudence and most
likely all of you, but just to make sure we are on the same page: the
idea is that the choice of the pinciples of social organisation is to be
made by persons who have no idea of the actual position they will occupy
society or of their interests and inclinations. Rawls is wideley
maybe best by Nozick, but I still consider his ideas as a good tool and
framework for any regulatory or policy discussions.
Seen through the eyes of Rawls we should bridge the gap at least if we do
enjoy the benefits of a digital society.
>4. Do we have a responsibility as humans to brdige the gap? Why / why not?
Yes, according to the answer to 3.
>7. How do we bridge the gap in short time with lack of funds?
I think we should be very generous with our knowledge. It will not cost
much to set up web sites spreading our knowledge and works to other
communities. The open source and free software movement could be the most
important step towards digitalisation of Africa. Sweden is one country
spending a lot of funds on financial aid directed towards developing
countries (often referred to the Group 77 countries). Maybe we and other
nations should refocus and educate and ditribute or knowledge instead of
At the United Nations Millenium Summit the prime minister of India, Shri
Vitar Bhapal Vhajpayee stated:
"A 'New Economy' drives the world today. Yet, nearly a quarter of the
people this Assembly represents have neither prospered nor gained from
these developments. Often,they find themselves further marginalised and
more vulnerable as development economics gives way to unbridled market
economics and social objectives are erased by profit motives."
>8. How do we bridge the gap in long time with lack of funds?
Actually, the same answer as 7. We also probably could donate a lot of
outranged equipment to the Group 77 countries or to less fortunate people
in our own contries.
>9. How do we bridge the gap in long time with lots of funds?
I think we should address these issues through the United Nations or a
similar organisation and fund a special program aiming to wire the world.
>10. Name one measure you can initiate today to bridge the gap. Will you do it?
I have translated the GNU GPL v 2 into Swedish, which - to my surprise -
was very much appreciated by Swedes lacking knowledge of the English
language. If you are not a programmer, easy things like this could
improve the world, although it may seem simple and naive on the verge to
pathetic. I have also published some of my works online, which has turned
out to be helpful to a few people. It is not a huge effort, but if we all
do something it could have some impact. You do not have to go into Pay it
forward-sleazy movies extremes .-)
My new task will be to write easy to grasp guidelines to use computers
free software or open source software. It will cost me a few hours, but
hopefully someone will be helped.
If you read this far, I am very impressed. Thank you for your attention.
, thanks for your clarification. (I know... it's
hard to write a good, convincing article.) Anyway, I found that the
original Pew article says that "39% of those not online say the Internet
is too expensive", but alas saying that "the Internet is too expensive"
and "I can't afford it" aren't exactly the same thing.
As for Malx's point that internal Internet access in
Ukraine is free: I guess people still need to pay a regular sum to get
access? (Otherwise, ISPs will become charity organizations. :-) Well, in
Singapore, the (few) ISPs around allow either charging by amount of use,
or a monthly sum -- one gets to choose between the two.
At any rate, assuming that the problem of getting Internet connectivity
is magically solved, the next most major problem I see is hardware. The
number of kinds of hardware you can use to connect to a specific
ISP/organization is limited. You can't for example use a normal modem to
connect to an ADSL network. (Or maybe I missed something again, as
Only when the above problems are solved can one consider software. The
good news is that there's no shortage of software for accessing the
Internet through a variety of devices, both free and non-free. On the
x86: There's Linux and the army of drivers and browsers that come with
it. DOS (which is freely available
and also has good support) also has its own share of packet drivers and
web browsers. Then there's QNX...
The not-so-good news is that, when one speaks of "Internet access", one
usually also thinks of the cute animated Java graphics and Internet
Exploiter-specific features etc. that go with it. But if you're only
talking about Internet access by itself (think Linux kernel +
Lynx), there's no problem on the software front. Linux however is just
one of many possible software solutions, and software is just one of the
problems one has to tackle to bridge the Digital Divide.
Ukraine, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 16:12 UTC by Malx »
Here is some statistics from http://itc.ua/ (It's publisher of main computer magazines also it
web-portal (russian language only)):
52 millions of people lives in Ukraine
Internet users - 500.000 (2000), 750.000 (2001)
Internet advertisement market - 0,5-1 million $
Mobil phone users - 2 millions
15" display - $400
DVD drive (internal) - $60
256MB mem - $30
Inet access(month, dialup, unlimited) - $25+/-40% (educational org. could get 50% discount)
Inet dedicated link - 64Kb/s - ~$300/mon, 128Kb/s - ~$600/mon.
Notebook (min) - $1200
Was sold last year (2001):
displays - 500 thousands
PC - 400-450 thousands (22-25% grows)
IT field - 100-500$/mon
normal - 40-200$/mon
Most of Internet SPs and IT companies are in Kiev (capital of Ukraine).
Last year anti-piracy law was passed. Still most of installed software and mp3s are pirated (CD cost ~$2).
As a consequence, most of Internet+Game clubs are installing (or going to install) Linux as main OS (with Wine).
1999 - calculataion system for president election was build on KSI-Linux
and all works
well (KSI linux distribution was developed in Ukraine. Now it's development is slowed down and site is not updated).
Last year new rules for .UA domain was passed (see http://nic.net.ua
). It is still controlled by
group of sysadms, who maintain it from 1992.
Now to register [name].ua you must have document, which states, that you have corresponding TM, officially registered by
Ukrainian government (so still no cybersquoting for TLD at all :). You need 3 years to register official TM.
Before anyone could get subdomain in one of 24 location-based subdomain (for example .kiev.ua - for Kiev region) and
.com.ua, .net.ua, .org.ua Special rules applied for .gov.ua and .edu.ua (you need to present official documents to get them).
Before this year all registrations have been made free of charge and submited by e-mail (you need to be specialist to do so ;).
Now - *.ua and *.com.ua are registered only through companies, which have agreement with administrative group. You will get
official paper documents. Also this company frees you from any need in technical knowlege to register and
have beed launched. It is main exchange point for all major ukrainian ISPs.
could find ISPs, which provides internal(in ukraine) connectivity free of charge in addition to normal per-traffic price (dedicated
Most of big companies (and all TV, radio, most of newspapers) already have at least an e-mail.
Ukrainian charset - koi8-u is submited as RFC2319 (see more
for more info about Ukraine (english).
Have you any other questions? (you could mail me at uazone.net)
2 tk, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 16:32 UTC by Malx »
I guess people still need to pay a regular sum to get access?
It is only for dedicated lines(not for dial-ups) and it is additional services - you can't get "only-internal" link :)
Ukraine & US, posted 16 Jan 2002 at 01:04 UTC by Malx »
The US just imposed 100% duties on the Ukraine because their legislature voted NOT to impose a piece of the US police state
on the Ukranian citizens.
I say bravo to the Ukranians! And maybe they can lend us a few freedom fighters, with experience in throwing off centralized
control of markets by the oligarchy, and authoritarian control of the media and the citizens. We need 'em.
John Gilmore (Sun Microsystems, Electronic Frontier Foundation)