The Digital Divide Bridged By Linux

Posted 12 Jan 2002 at 09:33 UTC by nymia Share This

"The information revolution has brought rapid transformation in the economies of many industrialized countries, and sweeping promises of a better quality of life for all. However, people living in the vast majority of other countries have been left untouched and unimpressed by this 'revolution' and its promises, since it has failed to improve their lives." [ 1 ]
Within the boundaries of these countries, the promise of having access to internet resources have been mostly to the ones who have the means. What has been considered a technical tool for technical people are now considered necessary resource. With all the information stored, be they scientific, economic or political in content, access to these resources must be provided at all levels.
What Is The Digital Divide?

A good definition of the Digital Divide is best described in terms of access to electronic resources. There is a good definition of it and is shown below.
Simply put, "the digital divide" means that between countries and between different groups of people within countries, there is a wide division between those who have real access to information and communications technology and are using it effectively, and those who don't. [ 2 ]
Basically, access to electronic resources start with having electronic devices. And these devices can either be personal or community owned, depending on location. Most often, these devices are personally owned by mostly those who are financially capable. Leaving the others to either go for shared or completely just forget it.

Global Perspective

When the internet exploded in the 90's. The internet became one of the primary source of information. From its acceptance, a lot of people from all walks of life started building information structures on top of it. As a result, with all the information that were built, devices used to access these information were elevated to the level of a 'must have.'

With all these constructions, more and more people went and browsed the internet. A quick information below show how many people connect to the internet.
There are an estimated 429 million people online globally, but even this staggering number is small when considered in context. For example, of those 429 million, fully 41% are in North America. Also, 429 million represents only 6% of the world's entire population. Other facts:

  • The United States has more computers than the rest of the world combined
When assessed by region, Internet use is dominated by North Americans:

  • 41% of the global online population is in the United States & Canada
  • 27% of the online population lives in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (25% of European Homes are online)
  • 20% of the online population logs on from Asia Pacific (33% of all Asian Homes are online)
  • Only 4% of the world's online population are in South America

[ 3 ]

Who's Not Online

Not everybody went and browsed the Net though. There were people, those who were considered not impressed or found it useful. And there were those who simply didn't have the necessary means of getting access. Results from a study shown below reveal interesting numbers.

The majority of adults without Internet access say they are likely to stay away from the Internet. A third of non-users (32%) say they definitely will not get Internet access. Another 25% of non-Internet users say they probably will not venture online. Specifically, Pew found:
  • Half the adults in America do not have Internet access and 57% of those are not interested in going online.
  • 32% of those without Internet access now say they definitely will not get Internet access. That comes to about 31 million Americans.
  • Another 25% of non-Internet users say they probably will not venture online.
  • 12% of those without Internet access say that they definitely will go online.
  • 29% of non-Internet users say they probably will get Internet access.
  • In contrast a substantial majority of those under 30 who say they plan to get access, seniors who are not online show little inclination of going online. The expense of going online still looms as a major issue for them.
There are several facts that can lifted from it and one of it was the issue of cost of going online. It is clear though that access to the internet means an electronic device connected to the Web will incur some cost. If cost is the primary determinant, a resulting class structure will mostly like form around it, those who can and those who cannot, called the less fortunates.
To be on the less fortunate side of the divide means that there is less opportunity to take part in our new information-based economy, in which many more jobs will be related to computers. It also means that there is less opportunity to take part in the education, training, shopping, entertainment and communications opportunities that are available on line. Now that a large number of Americans regularly use the Internet to conduct daily activities, people who lack access to those tools are at a growing disadvantage.[ 5 ]

While Americans are becoming increasingly connected, there are still significant discrepancies in access: Blacks and Hispanics, for example, are less connected anywhere than Whites are at home. Those groups with lower access rates at work or home are much more likely to use the Internet at a public place such as a school, library, or community center. They are also more likely to use the Internet to take courses or to conduct job searches than other groups. [ 7 ]

Filling The Gap

Fortunately, there are people and institutions who are commited in resolving the Digital Divide issue. As of today, there are a number of organizations already working on narrowing the gap. One of the organizations, named DDN contains necessary information about it.

In this period of intense research and development (R&D) in the Internet industry, and as content migrates to various information devices, now is the time to develop the tools and guidelines that will make it easier for everyone to use the Internet. History has shown that striving to make technologies accessible to specific constituencies leads to advances that benefit everyone. [6]

And there is of course, the President of the United States, who is very concerned about the current situation. Encouraging all sectors concerned to look into it and work up a way of addressing the issues.

Imagine if computers and Internet connections were as common in every community as telephones are today; if all teachers had the skills to open students' eyes and minds to the possibilities of new technologies; if every small business in every rural town could join worldwide markets once reserved for the most powerful corporations -- just imagine what America could be. [ 8 ]

Today is the opening of this national call to action. More than 400 organizations already have signed the pledge, and this is just the beginning. For the rest of the year we will try to inspire hundreds, indeed, thousands, more to sign up. We will work with Congress, across party lines, to build support for budget and legislative initiatives to meet these goals. And you heard Senator Mikulski outline some of them. We have to be willing at the national level to do our part. This is a worthy, federal investment. [ 8 ]

We do that when we help young people; when we help seniors in rural America get medical advice over the Internet; when we create tools that allow people with disabilities to open new doors of possibility. We give our neighbors a chance to participate in this astonishing American renaissance, we have done something that would have made Dr. King proud. And the new technology of the digital age gives us a chance to do it for more people, more quickly, more profoundly, than at any time in human history. It's up to us to seize that opportunity. [ 8 ]
The Bridge Called Linux

Addressing the issue means coming up with several solutions needed to close the gap. One of them is to look for ways that would have the following effects on hardware, software and peopleware cost:
  • Shift the cost away from the consumer.
  • Lower the cost making it affordable.
  • Minimize parts to near zero cost.
  • Subsidize the cost.
  • Use parts having zero cost.
With respect to locating parts with lowered cost on software. There is one candidate the would evenly fit the requirement. As of this writing, there are several OS are out there having those properties, but there is only one having a large developer base and community scattered around the globe that can act as support contacts. The name is called GNU/Linux.

Since the solution would require a large area of implementation with a range of users dominated by simple and ordinary types. Punctuated by technical and experienced types. The solution would then be designed to meet the requirements of the dominant types, having the property of 'ease of use.'

Linux has the most potential in the delivery of service to these types of users. One can only see the benefits derived from the use of it. Just imagine the possibility of having a end-to-end global network made from 'free' and 'open' software. The possibilities are just endless.


Bridging the Digital Divide requires an enormous amount of work for the techonology sector. A huge responsibility is placed on those who wish to take up the challenge. Current technologies in software, specifically, the Linux OS is a good candidate to play the role.

Multiple Postings, posted 12 Jan 2002 at 10:04 UTC by nymia » (Master)

Pardon for the multiple postings. I sent an email to Raph about it. Hoping it would be corrected.

Is there a problem?, posted 12 Jan 2002 at 10:30 UTC by neil » (Master)

Your own statistics show that only 10% of those without internet access plan to go online. If we can make conclusions about the cost of getting online from these numbers, as you say, then we can conclude that at least 90% of those who want internet access can afford it. That looks like a *good* number to me, not a bad one.

Imagine if 90% of those who wanted college could afford it?

Pick me! Pick me!, posted 12 Jan 2002 at 10:37 UTC by jdub » (Master)

neil: That is an easy one. We'd open more colleges / universities (consider the parallel for a moment). :-)

Statistics and the real problem, posted 12 Jan 2002 at 11:28 UTC by tk » (Observer)

Your own statistics show that only 10% of those without internet access plan to go online. If we can make conclusions about the cost of getting online from these numbers, as you say, then we can conclude that at least 90% of those who want internet access can afford it. That looks like a *good* number to me, not a bad one.

Not exactly true. Using statistical theory, let's pick a random person X from the US population, and define the following propositions:

I = "X has Internet access"
O = "X plans to go online"
A = "X can afford Internet access"

Can we deduce from the statistics that P(A | O) >= 90%? Let's see: P(A | O) = 1 - P(~A | O) >= 1 - P(~I | O) (~A => ~I, so P(~A | O) <= P(~I | O)) = 1 - 1 (since O => ~I) = 0. Not very informative.

The way I see it, the real problem lies not in software or hardware, but the fact that in order to be connected to the Internet, you need to subscribe to a paying service -- an ISP, a university, a BBS, a Net cafe, whatever. Or did I miss something?

real problem, posted 12 Jan 2002 at 23:52 UTC by Malx » (Journeyer)

Real poblem is devices. (IMHO)
Have you heard about cheap digital net access devices in France ? (They have existed longer then 10 years if I am not wrong). It whould be great if someone from France will describe them here...

It whould be just great to have cheap or free palm-size access devices (may be something like Jornado or Ipaq with mobil net access).

I thinks it is not real problem with payment for net access - you already need to do it for Phone and TV :)
The problem for other countries - they need to pay for links to US, Europe etc
So now we have different calculation for external and internal traffic - internal (in Ukraine) is free with most of ISPs (we have hundreds of them actually, but they are really small :).

What do you thinks - Is it possible to use same solutions as was with Phone? To install public booths on streats, so anyone could use it for checking mail, browsing Internet.

Minitels, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 01:59 UTC by tjansen » (Journeyer)

The system was/is called Minitel (in Germany there was a very similar, but less popular system called BTX). These things are basically text terminals used over a phone line with minimal graphics capabilities that are comparable to TeleText/VideoText. The service is not comparable to the Internet, it's more like the pre-GUI CompuServe or similar online services. Everything is centralized and operated by the local telecom monopoly. Creating your own service is complicated and expensive - you can make money with Micropayment though, all charges appear on the customer's telephone bill.

Assumptions, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 02:29 UTC by neil » (Master)

OK, then until you get more meaningful statistics, that speak directly on point, they add nothing to the argument.

Replies, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 10:44 UTC by nymia » (Master)

tk, I think your comments make sense, I can see there are missing premises in the framework, I found one missing piece in your comments. I knew from the beginning the framework wasn't strong enough in the sense that it is somewhat a challenge to focus only on Linux under the Digital Divide issue. There are in essence, so many items that can be taken and presented in a logical manner, but it would probably be too high and wide to cover them all though. As a result, the framework was constructed with only enough premises and supporting facts needed to make it stand.

Regarding neil's comments, yes, the numbers I presented are somewhat lacking. Though I provided references for the ones I presented, I believe there were lots of statistical information relating to other aspects of it as well.

Malx, I'm not really familiar about the situation in Ukraine, maybe you could let us know what is going there. I have two friends who came from Belarus and Romania and they told me what it was like there, but that is too far from Ukraine though. Anyway, it's nice you posted here. I really find it interesting to read about what other people from different countries has to say about it.

In not sure if the mpawlo in slashdot is the same guy here but, hey, thanks! Never thought it would make it on slashdot.

In defense, I would like to present my arguments, but I would like to have more time to verify them. I'll present them later.

Bridging the gap and Open Economies, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 10:46 UTC by mpawlo » (Master)

I submitted the link it to Slashdot, and it has spurred quite a discussion

The quality of the comments is varied as always, but there are some very interesting remarks.

Here is my comment from Slashdot:

First should know that there is a project called Open Economies, run by James Moore. Anyone can join the project.

I will just try to spark some discussion, here is a few points to consider followed by my own thoughts on this matter. Open Economies participants will recognise the content of this submission.

I think theses issues are worth to address to try to find some common ground (or than again, maybe we will not) to take action from.

1. Is there a gap? What is it then?

2. Where is the gap? Are we talking about the gap worldwide in developing countries or even on a national level in welfare countries with internal differences and gaps (i e USA or Sweden)?

3. Should we bridge the gap? (Should you answer no to this question, the rest of the questions may not be useful.)

4. Do we have a responsibility as humans to brdige the gap? Why / why not?

5. Are there any negative consequences of bridging the gap? Do we (i e the rich filthy bastards) profit from the differences?

6. Are there any positive consequences of bridging the gap Do we (again the rich filthy bastards) profit from minimising the differences?

7. How do we bridge the gap in short time with lack of funds?

8. How do we bridge the gap in long time with lack of funds?

9. How do we bridge the gap in long time with lots of funds?

10. Name one measure you can initiate today to bridge the gap. Will you do it?

- - -

I will try to address some issues to get the discussion going. I hope you do not mind me doing this.

>1. Is there a gap? What is it then?

Yes. There is a gap in countries and between countries and between continents in respect of:
1. computers
2. access
3. general IT knowledge and
4. use.

If one of the factors 1-4 is missing in any given community, the digital gap will eventually evolve. In a community with high rates of 1-4, the digital development will flourish.

>2. Where is the gap? Are we talking about the gap worldwide in developing >countries or even on a national level in welfare countries with internal >differences and gaps (i e USA or Sweden)?

I think the gap is relative and could be applied and considered both on a domestic and international level.

>3. Should we bridge the gap? (Should you answer no to this question, the >rest of the questions may not be useful.)

I think we should consider the world throught the John Rawls veil of ignorance. Rawls is well-known to all scholars of jurisprudence and most likely all of you, but just to make sure we are on the same page: the basic idea is that the choice of the pinciples of social organisation is to be made by persons who have no idea of the actual position they will occupy in society or of their interests and inclinations. Rawls is wideley critised, maybe best by Nozick, but I still consider his ideas as a good tool and framework for any regulatory or policy discussions.

Seen through the eyes of Rawls we should bridge the gap at least if we do enjoy the benefits of a digital society.

>4. Do we have a responsibility as humans to brdige the gap? Why / why not?

Yes, according to the answer to 3.

>7. How do we bridge the gap in short time with lack of funds?

I think we should be very generous with our knowledge. It will not cost us much to set up web sites spreading our knowledge and works to other communities. The open source and free software movement could be the most important step towards digitalisation of Africa. Sweden is one country spending a lot of funds on financial aid directed towards developing countries (often referred to the Group 77 countries). Maybe we and other nations should refocus and educate and ditribute or knowledge instead of cash.

At the United Nations Millenium Summit the prime minister of India, Shri Vitar Bhapal Vhajpayee stated:

"A 'New Economy' drives the world today. Yet, nearly a quarter of the people this Assembly represents have neither prospered nor gained from these developments. Often,they find themselves further marginalised and more vulnerable as development economics gives way to unbridled market economics and social objectives are erased by profit motives."

>8. How do we bridge the gap in long time with lack of funds?

Actually, the same answer as 7. We also probably could donate a lot of outranged equipment to the Group 77 countries or to less fortunate people in our own contries.

>9. How do we bridge the gap in long time with lots of funds?

I think we should address these issues through the United Nations or a similar organisation and fund a special program aiming to wire the world.

>10. Name one measure you can initiate today to bridge the gap. Will you do it?

I have translated the GNU GPL v 2 into Swedish, which - to my surprise - was very much appreciated by Swedes lacking knowledge of the English language. If you are not a programmer, easy things like this could actually improve the world, although it may seem simple and naive on the verge to pathetic. I have also published some of my works online, which has turned out to be helpful to a few people. It is not a huge effort, but if we all do something it could have some impact. You do not have to go into Pay it forward-sleazy movies extremes .-)

My new task will be to write easy to grasp guidelines to use computers with free software or open source software. It will cost me a few hours, but hopefully someone will be helped.

If you read this far, I am very impressed. Thank you for your attention.

Best Regards

Mikael Pawlo

More statistics and how Linux fits into the picture, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 15:58 UTC by tk » (Observer)

nymia, thanks for your clarification. (I know... it's hard to write a good, convincing article.) Anyway, I found that the original Pew article says that "39% of those not online say the Internet is too expensive", but alas saying that "the Internet is too expensive" and "I can't afford it" aren't exactly the same thing.

As for Malx's point that internal Internet access in Ukraine is free: I guess people still need to pay a regular sum to get access? (Otherwise, ISPs will become charity organizations. :-) Well, in Singapore, the (few) ISPs around allow either charging by amount of use, or a monthly sum -- one gets to choose between the two.

At any rate, assuming that the problem of getting Internet connectivity is magically solved, the next most major problem I see is hardware. The number of kinds of hardware you can use to connect to a specific ISP/organization is limited. You can't for example use a normal modem to connect to an ADSL network. (Or maybe I missed something again, as usual...)

Only when the above problems are solved can one consider software. The good news is that there's no shortage of software for accessing the Internet through a variety of devices, both free and non-free. On the x86: There's Linux and the army of drivers and browsers that come with it. DOS (which is freely available and also has good support) also has its own share of packet drivers and web browsers. Then there's QNX...

The not-so-good news is that, when one speaks of "Internet access", one usually also thinks of the cute animated Java graphics and Internet Exploiter-specific features etc. that go with it. But if you're only talking about Internet access by itself (think Linux kernel + Lynx), there's no problem on the software front. Linux however is just one of many possible software solutions, and software is just one of the problems one has to tackle to bridge the Digital Divide.

Ukraine, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 16:12 UTC by Malx » (Journeyer)

Here is some statistics from (It's publisher of main computer magazines also it supports web-portal (russian language only)):

52 millions of people lives in Ukraine
Internet users - 500.000 (2000), 750.000 (2001)
Internet advertisement market - 0,5-1 million $

Mobil phone users - 2 millions
Average costs:

15" display - $400
DVD drive (internal) - $60
256MB mem - $30
Inet access(month, dialup, unlimited) - $25+/-40% (educational org. could get 50% discount)
Inet dedicated link - 64Kb/s - ~$300/mon, 128Kb/s - ~$600/mon.
Notebook (min) - $1200
Was sold last year (2001):
displays - 500 thousands
PC - 400-450 thousands (22-25% grows)

Average wages:
IT field - 100-500$/mon
normal - 40-200$/mon

Most of Internet SPs and IT companies are in Kiev (capital of Ukraine).
Last year anti-piracy law was passed. Still most of installed software and mp3s are pirated (CD cost ~$2).
As a consequence, most of Internet+Game clubs are installing (or going to install) Linux as main OS (with Wine).
1999 - calculataion system for president election was build on KSI-Linux and all works well (KSI linux distribution was developed in Ukraine. Now it's development is slowed down and site is not updated).
Last year new rules for .UA domain was passed (see It is still controlled by group of sysadms, who maintain it from 1992.
Now to register [name].ua you must have document, which states, that you have corresponding TM, officially registered by Ukrainian government (so still no cybersquoting for TLD at all :). You need 3 years to register official TM.
Before anyone could get subdomain in one of 24 location-based subdomain (for example - for Kiev region) and,, Special rules applied for and (you need to present official documents to get them). Before this year all registrations have been made free of charge and submited by e-mail (you need to be specialist to do so ;). Now - *.ua and * are registered only through companies, which have agreement with administrative group. You will get official paper documents. Also this company frees you from any need in technical knowlege to register and maintain subdomain.
UA-IX have beed launched. It is main exchange point for all major ukrainian ISPs. Now you could find ISPs, which provides internal(in ukraine) connectivity free of charge in addition to normal per-traffic price (dedicated line connections).
Most of big companies (and all TV, radio, most of newspapers) already have at least an e-mail.
Ukrainian charset - koi8-u is submited as RFC2319 (see more ).
Visit for more info about Ukraine (english).

Have you any other questions? (you could mail me at

2 tk, posted 13 Jan 2002 at 16:32 UTC by Malx » (Journeyer)

I guess people still need to pay a regular sum to get access?

Shure! :)
It is only for dedicated lines(not for dial-ups) and it is additional services - you can't get "only-internal" link :)

Ukraine & US, posted 16 Jan 2002 at 01:04 UTC by Malx » (Journeyer)

The US just imposed 100% duties on the Ukraine because their legislature voted NOT to impose a piece of the US police state on the Ukranian citizens.

I say bravo to the Ukranians! And maybe they can lend us a few freedom fighters, with experience in throwing off centralized control of markets by the oligarchy, and authoritarian control of the media and the citizens. We need 'em.

John Gilmore (Sun Microsystems, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

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