Rogerson Explores Nations' Varied Technology Policies

Ken Rogerson lecturing on digital divideThe “digital divide” is the gap between people who have easy access to digital technology and those who don’t. Like technology itself, the digital divide is changing rapidly, says Lecturer in PPS Ken Rogerson, who studies the U.S. and international policies being created to address the issue. For instance, in 1995, there was a clear gender divide in use of digital technologies in the United States. The gender difference has since disappeared for Americans, yet it persists in other parts of the world.

“It’s a broad topic, like global warming; even people who recognize the scope of the problem disagree about what to focus on first,” Rogerson said. “The simple categories of age, race, gender and education don’t always tell you a lot about the divide,” he said.

In a chapter of the newly published Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics, Rogerson and coauthor Daniel Milton of Florida State University examine how four different democracies address the digital divide through policy. The four constitutional democracies—Brazil, Estonia, Singa pore and the United States—were selected because of their reputations for innovation in both information policy and technical development. Each country has programs to bridge the digital divide, as well as legislation that addresses criminal use of the technology and new government agencies to handle digital and information policy.

Brazil, a social democracy, is a leader in technology adoption in South America. Two programs, Computers for All and Casas Brazil, have funded computer purchases and construction of public buildings to house computers, thus providing access for lower and middle income citizens.

Estonia, an emerging democracy and former Soviet bloc nation, also has a public-access program. It set up 500 public computer centers across the country and established broadband connectivity in 95 percent of schools.

Singapore, a constitutional democracy and parliamentary republic with one-party rule, began in the mid 1990s to provide Internet access to all citizens through the SingaporeONE program. Singapore is consistently among the top Asian countries in connectivity levels.

The United States, the oldest democracy in the study, has been less successful in addressing the divide through government sponsored programs. Community Technology Centers developed by the Clinton administration lost funding in 2005. The E-rate program provided discounted technology to schools, but that funding has also been cut in recent years. Still, the United States has a high level of connectivity, as nearly twothirds of its citizens are Internet users.

Rogerson and Milton conclude that while democracies may have similar goals, they “understand the same technologies in very different ways.” While each country passed legislation focused on criminal uses and security, they have different approaches to privacy issues. Brazil and Singapore openly monitor their citizens’ on-line activities, while Estonia has passed a Personal Data Protection
Act. The U.S. has passed terrorism related bills to address “cyber security,” and has tried to craft bills to protect children’s privacy online.

“Countries have very different mindsets about the use of these tools,” said Rogerson. “The U.S. moved quickly to commercial uses for the Internet, but has been less concerned with access and privacy legislation.” He points out that many developed countries have a high level government agency to deal with information technology policy, but the U.S. has several agencies making policy, such as the State Department, the FCC and the Department of Commerce. “It’s clear that institutions matter in how countries deal with the the problem," he said.