Policy bridges for the digital divide: Assessing the landscape and gauging the dimensions

Paul M.A. Baker


Early evidence of economic and social change related to the diffusion of a number of information and communication technologies (ICTs) suggests that public sector actors face significant opportunities, as well as some unexpected barriers while "paving the information highway". These technologies have generated significant changes in the nature, and operation of communication and delivery of services by the private sector increasing the impetus to accelerate adoption of these technologies in the public sector. While the advantages of accessing these services is well accepted, the benefits of the use of these technologies has been observed to occur in a distressingly uneven or patchy manner. This variation, which for the sake of simplicity has been described by extending the information superhighway metaphor as "gaps" or "divides" in the development of the "highway". This paper suggests that a disservice is done in reducing the apparent inequities in the diffusion of the technologies to a simple socioeconomic concern. Rather than a one-dimensional "digital divide," more accurately there is a policy problem related to the use and deployments of ICTs with multiple geographic, social, economic and organizational components.
Further, ICTs present policymakers with an array of complex issues that extend beyond purely internal technological concerns. Rather than answering the question of how should public sector functions respond to the changes made possible by diffusion of ICTs, a more critical step seems to be to accurately gauge the nature of the issue rather than jump in and lay "digital pavement". This paper explores ramifications of the deployment of these technologies and suggests dimensions of the problem that merit further assessment.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v6i5.860

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