Brussels, 01 Aug 2003
A new EU report on the economic, social and environmental impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) has called for action to be taken to halt the still growing, dynamic digital divide.
The report, entitled 'A sustainable eEurope: can ICT create economic, social and environmental value?', finds that approximately 88 per cent of all Internet users account for only 15 per cent of the world's population in the industrialised world, while countries as digitally advanced as Finland, have more Internet users than the whole of Latin America.
There are also big differences within the developed world, claims the report. In 2002, some 58 per cent of all Americans had Internet access at home, compared to only 38 per cent in Europe. Within the EU, the percentage varies between 60 per cent in the Netherlands and 10 per cent in Greece.
However, the report argues that the digital divide is not just a problem of developing digital technology quickly enough. On the contrary, it suggests that factors such as age, gender, income, ethnic background, employment status, education and geography reveal a strong relationship between the digital divide and broader social divides.
This certainly rings true when looking at the age groups that access the Internet. The report finds that in 2001, about 85 per cent of UK residents aged between 16 and 24 had Internet access compared to just 15 per cent of those aged 65 to 74, and 6 per cent of citizens over the age of 75. Perhaps not surprisingly, the report also finds that only 23 per cent of the lowest income group are riding on the information superhighway, compared to 68 per cent of those in the highest income group.
In light of the larger social implications of ICT deployment, the report argues that policy-makers should not focus solely on ICT specific measures. Instead, they should look at the social issues affecting access to new technology. The report also suggests that not enough research has been done to understand the social problems caused by the digital divide. Research is seen as the key requirement to action aimed at dealing with the problem.
With regard to action at EU level, the report proposes that the Commission's Enterprise Directorate General set up a new award scheme, either independently, or linked to existing schemes, to highlight e-business initiatives which create significant environmental and social benefit. These would include helping small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to overcome problems which they face vis-à-vis larger organisations.
The report also identifies other areas where improvements need to be made in order to increase the value of ICT activities. These include creating environmental efficiency through improved management of supply chains, and improved control processes resulting in more optimal operation in the ICT sector.
The report also calls for increased corporate social responsibility in the ICT sector and greater efforts to raise awareness in the European business sector of the cost benefits of e-work.
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