No, it isn’t not a new kind of math equation! The digital divide is the gap that exists between people in the world who have access to computers, mobile devices and the internet, and those who do not. As we outlined in our Internet Health Report, nearly half of the world is still offline, meaning half of the world is still unable to benefit from the digital age and the digital economy.
To learn more about the Digital Divide, watch this video with Alice Munyua, director of Mozilla's Africa Mradi, or read on below.
The digital divide exists everywhere you look. In the United States, there are millions of Americans without reliable internet access in their homes, but the differences in connectivity rates between the richest and the poorest countries is most pronounced. For example, well over 80% of Europeans have access to the internet, but a minority of those in the Africa region are able to get online. And globally, fewer women are able to access the web than men.
In the case of the African continent, the digital divide is predictably impacted by cost. The continent has the most expensive internet in the world according to the Alliance for Affordable Internet.
This high barrier to entry has many implications. One thing that the COVID crisis has made clear is we need a connected digital economy now more than ever. Making a simple video call can be a really frustrating experience for someone in India or Nigeria, and just try homeschooling without reliable broadband!
Even for those who are online, disparities still exist. For example, police brutality at a protest in a location with reliable internet access, like the US or Hong Kong, will likely be far better documented than at one in Nigeria, Zimbabwe or Tanzania. And when states shut down the open internet, as we’ve seen during times of civil unrest or during presidential elections, political actors can create conditions that favor them politically, with serious democratic and civic implications.
For those who are fortunate enough to have meaningful connectivity, the internet provides a crucial link to information that helps keep their families healthy and safe, kept them employed, enabled them to study, engage in government, and exercise political freedoms.
Ultimately, the digital divide is a symptom that points us to a much deeper problem in our economic systems and economic development. It’s a problem that exists both in developed and underdeveloped countries in the world. To address the digital divide, we must address the underlying social and cultural challenges that have created it.