Session 2

Bridging digital divide(s) with a #SEEchange in digital literacy

Teaser 

Regardless of digital infrastructure’s quality, human capacity is ultimately what influences the effectiveness of Internet ecosystems. Users should engage with technology that is in line with their needs and positively influences the quality of their lives, but users often struggle due to the “digital divide.” What is the nature of digital divide in South Eastern Europe that hinders participation in the information society, and what are the bridges that we must build?

Key words

Internet, access, digital divide, infrastructure, computer use, ICTs, digital literacy/e-literacy, digital inequality, economy, social inequality, Internet governance

Session description

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the term “Digital Divide” refers to “the gap between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communications technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities.”  

While the digital divide debate has mainly centered around the struggle for end-users to have basic broadband connectivity, the focus of this issue has shifted toward the “new digital divide(s).” Such discussions now incorporate debates concentrated more on the quality of Internet connections, access to modern ICTs, and if and how the end-users benefit from using Internet technologies, than on the still existing gap between the connected and unconnected ones.

This session will have three major sections. After introducing and defining basic terms related to the session, such as the existing and new perceptions of digital divide(s), the first section will address the gap between the connected and unconnected population. While Internet penetration in the region is rapidly growing, the fact is that there are still areas that face obstacles like poor Internet infrastructure and high costs of accessing online services. This part of the session will try to identify the causes that generate or exacerbate this situation, and what could be the potential solutions.

The second part of the session will address the new digital divide, aiming at discussing the issue of unequal access to the modern, more advanced ICTs among the connected ones. Low investment in telecommunication infrastructures is one of the chief reasons for not  having more connected households, but also better signal quality; thus, according to the World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report (GITR), “only bolder regulatory reform can release the scale of modernizing investment in telecommunications that Europe needs today if it is to re-establish its competitiveness and enable future economic growth and consumer benefits.”

The discussion will also reflect the issue of the moving trend from basic broadband to high-speed broadband connections, called “next generation networks.” However, with significantly high mobile phone penetration in the region, the question of whether that is enough for the user to enjoy all the benefits of being online will be raised.

Finally, the third section will focus on regional access to new technologies. As certain countries in the region have extensive experience with introducing Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), the lack of digital literacy, the need for multilingualism on the Internet, as well as more local content, and the digital skills deficit will be widely discussed. In line with the focus of this section, the relevance of IPv6 to the region will be addressed as well.

At the end of the session, an attempt will be made to outline a potential set of recommendations on how the various stakeholder groups could contribute to the development and implementation of relevant policies and actions aimed at bridging the digital divides in the SEE region.

Session format

The most desired format of this session is a classical panel-type. The moderator will open the discussion by introducing basic terms and will introduce the panelists [1-2 minutes].

After that, each panelist will have five minutes for their introductory remarks on digital  divide in the region [20 minutes].

Later, the moderator will lead the discussion following the three main sections described above in the session description. All participants will be invited and welcome to ask questions or make comments throughout the discussions. In order to encourage interactions, the moderator might have the option to ask questions to participants, or call some participants to share their experiences related to any of the mentioned issues.  The panelists will use the rest of the time to answer the questions. If there are no questions, the moderator will ask questions related to the content they presented.

At the end, each panelist will have no more than 2 minutes for their closing remarks. After that, the rapporteur will present his/her notes [max. 2 minutes]All participants, including the panelists, will be asked to cast a vote on approving the notes by raising their hand. The moderator will then conclude the session by thanking the organizers, panelists, and all participants.

Main roles

Key participants:

  • Valentin Negoiță, Association of Producers and Distributors of ICT Equipment (APDETIC), Romania
  • Megan Richards, Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, European Commission, Belgium
  • Vojislav Rodić, Serbian National Internet Domain Registry (RNIDS), Serbia
  • Jan Žorž, Internet Society, Slovenia

Moderator:  Dušan Stojičević, Serbia

Remote moderator & Rapporteur: Michael Oghia, Turkey/USA

Session messages

  • There are many layers of Internet development in the South Eastern European region, from access and infrastructure (broadband included) to cost and affordability, literacy, content, and services. Deployment of infrastructure is insufficient in itself, and needs to be complemented by measures focused on education and development of local content, among others.
  • Internet access solely via mobile technologies should be seen only as a temporary access solution. Mobile technology does not provide complete access to the breadth of the Internet, and, as such, must be reinforced by fiber networks and better use of spectrum, especially in rural areas.
  • More efforts are needed in the region (both from the governments and the private sector) to improve the adoption of IPv6 and other Internet technologies that can contribute to bridging the digital divide.
  • Digital literacy and awareness about content like e-services or e-government, specifically in local languages and scripts, are critical to bridging the digital divide.
  • Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) can contribute to bringing more people online. Supporting and encouraging the development and use of IDNs in the region is therefore extremely important.
Resources

1. Pew Research Center (2016) – Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging Economies

  • The report found that smartphone ownership and Internet usage continues to climb worldwide, especially in emerging economies. Advanced economies, however, still have higher rates of technology use. Based on the results of Pew’s Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey, which surveyed adults in 40 countries across economic categorizations, more than two-thirds of those surveyed use the Internet, but fewer do in Africa and South Asia. Other highlights include youth, education and higher-income were correlated with greater Internet access around the world, and significant gender gaps exist regarding technology use and access.

2. CNET (22 February 2016) – The plan to connect everyone in the world by 2020 is already off the rails

  • Key paragraph: “A new report on Internet affordability says the situation isn’t going to get better anytime soon, despite a plan by the United Nations to bring the world online by 2020. Rather, the Alliance for Affordable Internet report suggests the UN will miss its target by more than 20 years. The world’s least developed countries will only reach universal Internet access by 2042, according to group’s annual affordability report, which looked at the world’s 51 poorest countries. If progress continues at the current rate, only 53 percent of the world will be online by 2020, and the world’s poorest countries will only have managed to connect 16 percent of their citizens.”

3. UN DESA (2015) – Transforming our world: The 2030 UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development

  • Goal 9.c – “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”

4. Center for Public Impact (24 February 2016) – Continental shift: Delivering a digital Africa

  • Key paragraph: “Four areas need concerted attention: (1) more widespread Internet infrastructure, (2) more easy and affordable services, (3) relevant local digital contentand (4) higher digital literacy skills. Successful countries have taken a comprehensive, multistakeholder approach to addressing these challenges.”

5. European Commission (2016) – Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI)

  • The development of the digital economy and society of EU member states in Southeastern Europe was found to be below the EU average in 2015, according to DESI, a summary of indicators used to track Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness. Data indicated that digital development in Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece was slower than the overall EU and falling behind other member states. Croatia, Romania and Slovenia, on the other hand, developed more rapidly than the EU as a whole.

6. Eurostat (2015) – Information society statistics: Households and individuals

  • The lowest rate of internet access among the EU Member States was recorded in Bulgaria (57%). However, there was a rapid expansion in household access to the internet in Bulgaria, as the proportion of households with internet access rose by 27 percentage points between 2009 and 2014, an increase exceeded, among the EU Member States, only in Greece (28 percentage points); the increase in Turkey was slightly larger, at 30 percentage points. The Czech Republic, Romania, Estonia, Spain, Hungary and Italy also recorded increases of 20 percentage points or more over the same period. Unsurprisingly, relatively small increases were recorded in several Member States that were already close to saturation, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, although Lithuania reported the second lowest increase (6 percentage points), despite having a relatively low proportion of internet access (66% in 2014).

7. LinkedIn (2016) – 5G: Where networks get exponential

  • Article on the near future of mobile Internet (5G might seem like a distant future to our region, but as we know, things change quickly).

8. Boston Consulting Group (2014) – The connected world: Greasing the wheels of the Internet economy

Highlights four categories of barriers (or “eFriction”) that prevent people from realizing the full benefits of the Internet. These four areas are: infrastructure, individual, industry and information. Also see this link for more information on how this report is linked to the Sustainable Development Goals and infrastructural developments such as the DNS, expanding language support, and IDNs.

Relevant proposals 

 1, (2), (3), (4), 5, 10, (15), 31, (50), 52, (55), (58), 67, 68, 69, 72 – See full list of proposals

Organizing team

  • Vojislav Rodić, Serbian National Internet Domain Registry (RNIDS), Serbia (focal point)
  • Hovhannes Aghajanyan, ISOC Armenia
  • Anelia Dimova, Ministry of Transport, Information Technology and Communications, Bulgaria
  • Anja Gengo, IGF Secretariat, Switzerland/Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Michael Oghia, Turkey/USA
  • Contact points from SEEDIG’s executive committee:  Iliya Bazlyankov and Dušan Stojičević

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