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Study finds gaps in digital divide theory

The digital divide is not just a problem in poor countries--it's also widening in technologically advanced regions, says a study by a panel of experts set up by chipmaker AMD.

Lack of access to the Internet and related digital technologies is a problem not only in emerging markets but also in advanced countries, a comparative study of eight markets has shown.

Though the gap between haves and have-nots is narrowing in the United States and in other nations, certain aspects of the divide are widening in many countries, according to the study.

In the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, the "gender divide" is decreasing as more women are logging on to the Net. But in China, Germany, Italy, Korea and Mexico the report finds that women are still laggards. The United States is slower than other advanced markets in adopting technologies such as mobile Net access and broadband, where Japan and South Korea lead respectively, the study says.

The Global Consumer Advisory Board , set up by chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices, collated findings from different studies on Internet use and access in China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States in its report, titled "Charting and Bridging Digital Divides."

The study notes that there is no global standard for gauging Internet usage and growth because the spread of the Internet is uneven. Though the number of people online has risen from about a million users in 1993 to more than 600 million in 2002, only about 10 percent of the world's population is online. Nearly 90 percent of those users are from industrialized countries, with nearly a third of those users from the United States.

But in the United States, it may not be a question of access. An earlier study found that a full 20 percent of unwired Americans said they live in homes with an Internet connection, but don't access the Net.

"Bridging the digital divide requires more than simply offering computers and Internet access. Technological fixes won't close the divide unless they take into account the social reasons why people aren't online," Patrick Moorhead, GCAB chairman, said in a statement. "For companies that are increasingly focused on global emerging markets, understanding socioeconomic factors impacting technology adoption in the various regions is absolutely crucial."