Summary
The digital divide is the unequal access to digital technology, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and the internet. The digital divide creates a division and inequality around access to information and resources. In the Information Age in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) have eclipsed manufacturing technologies as the basis for world economies and social connectivity, people without access to the Internet and other ICTs are at a socio-economic disadvantage, for they are unable or less able to find and apply for jobs, shop and sell online, participate democratically, or research and learn. The historical roots of the digital divide in Europe reach back to the increasing gap that occurred during the early modern period between those who could and could not access the real time forms of calculation, decision-making and visualization offered via written and printed media. Within this context, ethical discussions regarding the relationship between education and the free distribution of information were raised by thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Immanuel Kant and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). The latter advocated that governments should intervene to ensure that any society's economic benefits should be fairly and meaningfully distributed. Amid the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, Rousseau's idea helped to justify poor laws that created a safety net for those who were harmed by new forms of production. Later when telegraph and postal systems evolved, many used Rousseau's ideas to argue for full access to those services, even if it meant subsidizing hard to serve citizens. Thus, "universal services" referred to innovations in regulation and taxation that would allow phone services such as AT&T in the United States serve hard to serve rural users. In 1996, as telecommunications companies merged with Internet companies, the Federal Communications Commission adopted Telecommunications Services Act of 1996 to consider regulatory strategies and taxation policies to close the digital divide.
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