Study: PCs Not Closing Digital Divide

Although a sharp rise in ownership of personal computers (PCs) worldwide is translating into widespread Internet usage, the digital divide is not closing at the same rate, according to a new study from Roper Research.

The study found that 3 in 10 consumers worldwide now own a PC, a six percent increase over 1998. Nearly one in five of those users went online in the past month, a jump of seven percent, the research firm said.

“As we look at ownership and use of technology, it’s clear that in the last year or so, the mastery of technology at a personal level is rising significantly in many regions of the world,” said Roper’s Tom Miller. “The digital divide between developed and developing countries, however, is only modestly closing.”

The research firm conducted 30,000 interviews with 1,000 consumers in each of 30 countries, and claims that the study can be projected to 1.39 billion people.

Where the Computers Are

According to the study, the biggest jump in PC ownership was in the developed, northern region of Asia, where nearly 6 in 10 consumers now own PCs, up 12 points from 1998. In second place, half of North Americans (51%) own PCs, an eight-point gain over 1998. Third-place Latin America, where nearly 3 in 10 own PCs (29%), is up seven points.

The top-five biggest gains by country were: Japan (50%), up 16 points; Turkey (26%), up 13 points; and Taiwan (60%), Germany (44%), and Saudi Arabia (32%), each up 12 points.

Looking at the Digital Divide

“The rate of adopting information technology in more nascent economies is faster than in developed countries, but it’s from a base still quite small. We expect to see a number of global initiatives aimed to speed up the digital revolution in less advantaged countries,” Miller said.

The so-called “digital divide” between the use of the Internet by the wealthy and the disadvantaged has been an international topic of debate for years, though little action has been taken, nor funds provided, to address the problem.

This year’s G8 summit in Japan produced an information technology charter that acknowledges the magnitude of the problem and underscores the commitment of leading nations to work on closing the gap.

“The challenge of bridging the international information and knowledge divide cannot be underestimated,” the G8 said in late July.

More than 90 percent of all Internet servers worldwide are in developed countries. New York, for example, has more Internet servers than the whole of Africa.

Where Internet Is Growing

Asia has long been identified as one of the fastest growing Information Technology (IT) markets in the world. A study last month by Lehman Brothers predicted that increasing PC ownership and cheaper telecommunications services should cause Internet penetration in Asia to triple in three years to 233 million. Internet advertising revenues are expected to soar in the region from $344 million (US$) now to $5.4 billion in 2005.

Japan, for example, was slow to embrace e-commerce initially, but now is one of the leaders. Internet penetration in China has skyrocketed to 16.9 million, according to official government figures released recently, and the country is set to overtake Australia as the largest IT market in the Asia/Pacific region, other than Japan.

Fastest Growth

According to the Roper study, Turkey’s Internet usage has grown the fastest, up 14 points to 19 percent, followed by the U.S., which jumped 13 points to 44 percent.

Germany saw the next highest growth in Web usage, up 13 points to 23 percent. Korean Internet usage was up 12 points to 25 percent, and Taiwan usage was up 11 points to 27 percent.

According to the research firm, North Americans were far more likely to have used their computers recently: 41 percent said they used them in the last month, a leap of 12 percent over 1998.

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