The two divides in digital access: income and refuseniks

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #77, February 2010


Two years ago, in the US (which can probably be extrapolated in most higher income countries) the reasons for not subscribing to the Internet where many, but an important one was refusal to, that is, people that just did not want to connect to the Internet.

Three years later we do not speak anymore of Internet access, but of broadband access, as we believe that what increasingly matters is the broadband divide rather a “simple” access to the Internet divide.

And the composition of the digital divide related to access has slightly changed:


  • 44.6% do not have broadband access because of cost (we can assume that not having a computer or an inadequate one is also because of its cost)
  • 37.8% state they do not need or are not interested in the Internet

It looks like skills are becoming less important and that economic reasons become more important. Though slightly decreasing, it is still astonishing that, of those who do not have broadband access, more than a third do not find any utility in going online.

There is something really wrong in here. On the one hand, as the crisis strikes with more virulence, more people is left behind in our Information Society because of lack of access. On the other hand, we are definitely failing in raising awareness that the Information Society is a train that you’ll either take or it’ll run over you: no “leave it pass besides you” option.

ICTs won’t necessarily bring better health, higher quality education, a more transparent and participative democracy, more wealth and jobs for all. But lack of ICTs will most likely decrease the probability to access health services, education, democracy, economic development and jobs at all. The more time I devote to studying the Information Society the lest optimistic I am that ICTs will change the main structures of the world, but I also am the more pessimistic that lack of them will end up with entire societies and ways of living.

When chances are uncertainty of improvement or almost certainty of perishing, we should definitely:

  • Enable physical access for those that are not online, maybe through public access points embedded in their communities
  • Raise awareness on the impact of ICTs in our society, so that those who could be online but just don’t want are (sorry to be patronizing here) better informed to take their decisions.

More information

National Telecommunications and Information Administration (2010). Digital Nation: 21st Century America’s Progress Towards Universal Broadband Internet Access. Washington, DC: National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2010) “The two divides in digital access: income and refuseniks” In ICTlogy, #77, February 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from

5 Comments to “The two divides in digital access: income and refuseniks” »

  1. ” it is still astonishing that a third of the population still do not find any utility in going online”.

    As I understood the numbers in the report, it’s 1/3 of the 1/3 that do not have broadband access that do not want it. Ten percent does not seem something to worry about. On the other hand, the twenty or so percent that cannot afford it are very important to worry about, off course.

  2. Great post Ismael. When you say “The more time I devote to studying the Information Society the lest optimistic I am that ICTs will change the main structures of the world, but I also am the more pessimistic that lack of them will end up with entire societies and ways of living.” it comes to my mind some statements made by Manuel Castells about the complementarity of many ICT solutions instead of the expected replacement of old ones.

    The forces that have moved the world haven’t changed since the beginning. Power and strenth superiority have dictated the most important events in history. ICT meant in its start, as for many new communication environments, an opportunity to define some secanrios of freedom and equal opportunities, but the power of strong actors is dictating the rules placing pressure on the politicians to restrict freedom inside the Internet. Democracy will take place in the same conditions as always. People, citizens will have to fight to protect their rights and interests by counterbalancing economic powerful interests, with the power of votes and open fora.

    The case of thecopyrights’ protection forced by the media companies (not the authors), the difference of quality and prices of Internet access, in the different countries, according to non social reasons, but to mere speculative ones; and the understanding that some carriers like Telefonica or Vodafone that they are the masters of the network and those who provide services and increase the traffic load in the network should pay for it (instead of getting payed for attracting more users and providing usefulness to the network – say Google), are examples of how the expected free communication highway is becoming another selective communication environment.

    Nothing’s different after 60,000 years. Isn’t it so?

  3. Well, that I am not that optimistic does not mean that I am taht pessimistic ;)

    I think changes are possible, but we shouldn’t take them for granted and achieving some goals will require quite some efforts.

  4. Pingback: ICTlogy » SociedadRed » La inutilidad de la banda ancha

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