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Video clip synopsis – Trevor Barr reminds us that more than half of the world's population does not have access to the Internet. Stephen Mayne shares his belief that the digital divide will prevent Internet broadcasts from reaching entire populations in the way that television or radio broadcasts can.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 4min 20sec
Tags - design, emerging technologies, innovation, Internet, online communities, software, technology, technology and society, see all tags


The Digital Divide

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About the Video Clip


The interviews with Trevor Barr and Stephen Mayne were recorded for the website From Wireless to Web, produced in 2005.

Trevor Barr is an author, professor and the Director of the Creative Industries Research & Applications Centre at the Queensland University of Technology. Stephen Mayne was the founder and editor of independent news service You can view their full biographies at From Wireless to Web

The website is a selective history of broadcast media in Australia. Decade by decade, from radio and newsreels to TV and the internet, this history shows how the Australian broadcast media developed and shaped the way Australians see themselves.

From Wireless to Web is a Film Australia production in association with Roar Film.

Curriculum Focus


This Module can be used to achieve some of the outcomes of the NSW Information Processes and Technology Stage 6 syllabus; specifically the following outcomes:
P4.1: describes the historical development of information systems and relates these to current and emerging technologies.
H3.1: evaluates the effect of information systems on the individual, society and the environment.
H4.1: proposes ways in which information systems will meet emerging needs.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


The Internet has profoundly changed many things in our world. Not since the Industrial Revolution have there been such major changes to the way we keep in touch, work, shop, discover and learn.

The 'have’ versus 'have not’ distinction traditionally refers to 'the great divide’ in our world, between people who have health, wealth, and opportunity versus those who have not. The same distinction can be made about people who have access to the new information and communications technologies (ICT) versus those who have not, and this is referred to as 'the digital divide’.

At first it was thought that the digital divide could be closed by improving infrastructure: by getting Internet connections out to regional, rural and remote Australia; making public-access computers widely available; increasing data speeds; and reducing costs to the consumer. But research is finding other reasons for Australia’s digital divide.

“The Australian digital divide is one of income and social situation, not geography … If you are poor or lack good education it is not going to make much difference how many satellites we put in the sky or how many cables we run past your house. A broader and more complex social policy agenda is going to be necessary if Australia is to seriously address the root causes of its digital divide.” [Jock Given, Communications Law Centre] (qtd Caslon Analytics The Digital Divide)

Those at risk of falling on the 'have not’ side of Australia’s digital divide are the elderly, people with a disability, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, people with low literacy skills, and people from lower socio-economic groups. (Caslon Analytics Net metrics and statistics guide: the Digital Divide)

Since new technologies have become so integral to our world there are fears that exclusion is a major threat to the 'have nots’, whether these are individuals, groups, or whole communities.

Globally, there is a gaping digital divide between the 'information rich’ and 'information poor’. It was estimated in 1991 that “Tokyo had more telephones than the entire African continent” [David Cook, President of CBIS International] (qtd Global Expansion), and, in a statement made in 1994 by MCI executive Greg LeVert, that “half of the people in the world had never made a phone call”. (qtd Shirky Half the World)
In 2003, the World Health Organisation estimated that almost one-third of all humanity suffers poverty, hunger and malnutrition ('Nutrition, Health and Human Rights’), ensuring them a permanent place on the 'have not’ side of the digital divide.

Classroom Activities

  1. The major arguments of the benefits of bridging the digital divide include:
    1. Economic equality: Some think that access to the Internet is a basic component of civil life that some developed countries aim to guarantee for their citizens.
    2. Social mobility: An increased use of computers and computer networks will (ultimately) lead to increased learning and career opportunities.
    3. A healthier democracy will be created through increased use of the Internet.
    4. ICT in general tends to be associated with productivity improvements and the development of information infrastructure and active use of it could be a shortcut to economic growth.
    5. Do you consider the arguments of the benefits of bridging the digital divide valid? Explain the reason behind your point of view.
  2. The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts manages several programs to improve community access to broadband services (HIBIS, Broadband Connect and Metropolitan Broadband Connect).
    1. Outline what these programs offer.
    2. How could these programs be improved to bridge the digital divide in this country?
  3. The global digital divide is essentially the differences in opportunity to access the Internet between technology rich and technology poor countries. These divisions. not surprisingly, reflect the existing economic divisions between developed and developing nations.
    1. Should telecommunications support be an integral part of our overseas aid program if we are to bridge the digital divide in developing nations?
  4. Research the One Laptop per Child Project. What do you consider are the implications of this project in assisting to bridge the digital divide?

Further Resources


Go to From Wireless to Web for more about the history of broadcast media in Australia.

Go to Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Communications and Technology

Go to Institute for Social Research, Events – Digital divides: technology and politics in the information age

Go to One Laptop per Child

Go to United Nations, World Summit on the Information Society