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140 Int'l Lab. Rev. 119 (2001)
Can the Digital Divide Be Contained

handle is hein.journals/intlr140 and id is 145 raw text is: International Labour Review, Vol. 140 (2001), No. 2

Can the digital divide be contained?
Duncan CAMPBELL*
R apid technological change typically occurs in an uneven fashion.
Certainly, there is no doubt about the unprecedented speed of progress
in the use of the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) -
but patterns of diffusion are less clear and change fast. Given the pervasive
impact of ICTs on society, there is grave concern about whether the rapid and
uneven spread of ICTs will further widen the digital divide that has already
emerged between industrialized and developing countries. For, since the
conditions enabling the spread of ICTs vary - or are simply unmet - in
many parts of the developing world, differing speeds of diffusion will
inevitably mean a widening digital divide. Then, if ICT use proves to be
associated with economic gains, that widening digital divide can only
reinforce and deepen the existing socio-economic divide between
industrialized and developing countries. Concern over the uneven diffusion
of ICTs is therefore well placed and is at the heart of this article.
This article is based on several findings of the ILO's World Employment
Report 2001: Life at work in the information economy. It begins by summar-
izing the extent of the digital divide between industrialized and developing
countries. There follows an analysis of the economic effects of ICT use, for
example, as a result of the commercial applications of the Internet, or the pro-
ductivity gains of the application of ICTs to business processes. The policy
fundamentals underlying the successful entry into the information economy
of certain developing countries are then discussed. Finally, an outline is pro-
vided of initiatives at international level to put ICTs at the service of devel-
opment.
Measuring the digital divide
The term digital divide is used to describe situations in which there is
a marked gap in access to or use of ICT devices measured by, for example,
the number of phone lines per inhabitant, or the number of Internet users, or
* Employment Strategy Department, ILO.

Copyright © International Labour Organization 2001

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