On.. The new digital divide

The digital divide as a concept has existed for as long as computers have been a mainstream electronic item.  There are those that have them and those that don’t.  Those that have them are perceived to have more access to educational tools and better chances as “good” jobs.  The advent of the web as a tool for news has resulted in the definition of the divide being further expanded to include more access to democratic information.

However I am sensing a new digital divide appearing and it can’t just be drawn along country lines, perhaps our village is truly global now if that which divides us can’t be simply pegged by country.  With the growth of video and music on the net it is easy to forget that not everyone has broadband access.  In fact the broadband penetration across the globe is relatively low if taken as a whole, although it is climbing.  With countries like Iceland, South Korea and Netherlands leading the way in developing a broadband based populous it is possible to look to them and see a very enticing vision of the future.

There is a problem though, whilst these countries, my friends, my family and many of the people I work with have broadband available to them, not everyone does.  In our rush forwards to this new bright future of video on demand, streaming music and all singing all dancing web applications it must be remembered that the majority of people on earth accessing the internet are doing so from a modem still, the majority of those at 56k, but for a long time there will still be people accessing via 28.8k, or less.  There is a trend amongst CSS developers now to push more and more graphics on the client; this is a worry trend if you are on 56k.

As a developer who lives with broadband at home and higher speed access at work I have to remind myself not everyone, even in my immediate community, has broadband.  So before we all get carried away developing high bandwidth applications for our digital life style it is worth giving pause for thought for the massive amounts of people who will be unable to use our sites properly if we don’t take into account bandwidth, by massive amounts of people I mean potential customers.

We have the tools available, HTML and CSS can produce great looking low bandwidth pages, a bit of thought on what to put client side and what to put server side can make life easier for low bandwidth users.  We have the ability to degrade pages gracefully if CSS or images are turned off, how many of us do that?  How many of us test our developments on a 56k modem?  I know I previously haven’t.  What tools are available for us to investigate different user experiences?

Just thought it was worth a reality check.

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7 Responses to “On.. The new digital divide”


  1. 1 Thomas September 15, 2006 at 8:51 am

    Hi,

    I love this as a trial to bridge this new gap:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3603943.stm

    Quote: “… where parliament has declared internet access a basic human right, is ahead of EU countries like France and Italy when it comes to the use of mobile phones and internet connections.”

    Broadband is going to be the same as electricity and water; the question is how long will it take and what social groups receives what kind of ‘broadband’ service…

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  1. 1 On.. Having a compelling idea « BuzzSort Trackback on September 23, 2006 at 10:22 am

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