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ICT and the information gap

The difference between developed countries and developing countries lies mainly in the technologies used in communication. With the coming of the internet, the information gap between developed and developing countries has increased due to the difference in technologies possessed by the two. For the developed countries, there is more information as compared to the amount of information received by developing countries. Others might argue that the gap in information has not increased due to the presence of an ever increasing number of African Internet users. In some cases, one might say not much information is obtained from the Internet, thus to some extent the gap has not increased.

Assuming that the perhaps the information gap may have increased; it could be attributed to the presence of developed communication systems in countries like Britain and the United States of America. These communication systems include the telephone line which forms the bases of the Internet. Furthermore, connecting to the Internet involves a modem, a phone line, and an Internet Service Provide (ISP) which most African countries do not possess.

With many people in developed countries affording to get connected to the Internet, most of them have access to as much information because Internet includes the World Wide Web (www) which enables them to access documents in richly formatted text and pictures. Thus, for the first world countries, it is easy to browse or ‘surf’ a large amount of information on the Internet. In contrast, African countries have poor communication systems. For instance, out of the 770 million people in Africa, 1 in 40 have a fixed line and 1 in 150 use the internet. This depicts the number of people who have access to the information that is on the Internet. The statistics show that people living in developed countries have more access to information on the Internet than those in developing countries. Therefore, the information acquired on the Internet has increased the gap of information between developing and developed countries.

Access to the Internet requires a source of energy. In the developed countries, it is easy for households to have the Internet due to the presence of electricity in both urban and rural areas. However, in Africa, particularly countries in the sub-Saharan region, most countries including Zimbabwe, have irregular or non-existing electricity supplies in both rural and urban areas. This has hindered the development of the Internet which is a large set of computer networks that communicate with each other, often over telephone lines. The unavailability of many computers in developing countries shows how few people in countries such as Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique have access to the Internet.

IN addition, most Internet users in Africa are adults while in developed countries, the young, business and academic people tend to be the Internet users. This means that more people who are in need of information in developed countries have access to the Internet via the Internet as opposed to those in Africa. This in turn increases the gap of information between developed and developing countries.

It is expensive for people living in African to pay the costs of using the Internet. In Zimbabwe, it costs USD1 for every 15 minutes. In most African countries, “the ISP subscription charges vary greatly - between $10 and $100 a month.” (mike@sn.apc.org). The rates paid for using the Internet are not high for people living above poverty datum line than those in Africa who are living in poverty. Thus, more people in developed countries have access to information than those in Africa. This increases the gap of information between Third world countries and First world countries.

Computers and the Internet have revolutionalised the educational system. Most books are now found on the Internet. This means that most people in developed countries can easily download information on the Internet. Of the 770 million people in Africa 1:130 have a PC thus; the number of people likely to get information via the Internet is small. In addition, the down-loading time in developing countries is slow. Moreover, the literacy level in Africa is low and most people find it challenging to use the Internet to get information. (The first time for me to use a computer was at University and not many women in Zimbabwe go to University and the few that reach University level)

However, it might not be just to say that the Internet has increased the gap of information. Perhaps, the Internet has to some extent reduced the gap because many people are now getting new information via the Internet. Mike Jensen says the Internet continues to grow rapidly in Africa and local access is available in all 54 countries. The Internet has led to the rapid growth of interest in kiosks, cybercafés and other forms of public Internet access and it is leading to the increase of information in many African countries. For instance, the number of dialup Internet subscribers now stands at over 1,43 million up from 1 million at the end of 2000. In Zimbabwe, there are about seven points of presence (POPs) and this has reduced the costs of using the Internet. Now and increasing number of people use the Internet and the gap of information between developing and developed countries has been reduced.

There is the view which suggests that most of the information found on the Internet is of no use. This can mean that the Internet has not increased the gap of information between developing and developed countries. This is because most Africans use the Internet mainly for Electronic-mail (E-mail) while people in developed countries ‘surf’ for ‘garbage’ information. In other words, Africans have closed the gap of information by manipulating the E-mail for disseminating information across frontiers.

In conclusion, the Internet can be said to be revolutionalising the way people access information. Thus, most Africans fail to get information due to the unavailability, inaccessibility, failure to afford key components needed to get the Internet running. However, developing countries have managed to manipulate the Internet to close the gap of information between developing and developed countries.

By Gertrude Pswarayi

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