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The bad news is that the digital access divide is here to stay: Domestically installed bandwidths among 172 countries for 1986–2014


In contrary to the common argument that the digital access divide is quickly closing and that the focus should shift to skills and usage, this article shows that access to digital communication is a moving target unlikely to ever be solved. While the number of subscriptions reaches population saturation levels, the bandwidth divide continuous to be dynamic. The article measures the nationally installed bandwidth potential of 172 countries from 1986 to 2014. The overarching finding is that the divide in terms of bandwidth does not show any clear monotonic pattern. It fluctuates up and down over the decades as the result of an intricate interplay between incessant technological progress and diffusion of technology. The bandwidth divide between high- and low income countries has first increased and only decreased below historic levels very recently during 2012-2014. In general it shows that the bandwidth divide is linked to the income divide, which is notoriously persistent. The bandwidth distribution among all countries is undergoing a new process of global concentration, during which North America and Europe is being replaced by Asia as the new global leader. In 2014 only 3 countries host 50% of the globally installed bandwidth potential (10 countries almost 75%). The U.S. lost its global leadership in 2011, being replaced by China, which contributes more than twice as much national bandwidth potential in 2014 (29% versus 13%). Despite this bad news about the continuous persistence of the digital access divide among countries, exploratory analysis from a global perspective brings the good news that many more individual people seem to enjoy more equal access to global bandwidth. All of this showcases the urgency to systematically develop indicators to track the digital divide in terms of bandwidth.

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