By the way, what is the digital divide, the daily struggle of the Foundation for Digital Inclusion? It is important to enlight this question as the concept remains unknown or unclear for most citizens.
The digital divide refers to all inequalities in access to IT tools such as internet connection, e-services (health, banking, online social services) and hardware (computers, tablets, smartphones). It covers three types of inequalities:
The first form of digital divide concerns inequalities in the possession of an internet connection. Even if the number of people who have access to internet have increased, there are still a lot of disparities. Indeed, a significant number of Belgians are still deprived of Internet.
On the one hand, it is the precarious and isolated households who suffer from the lack of internet connection. About 10% of the Belgian population does not have an internet connection at home, that is to say nearly 450 000 households. This figure doubles for people living alone: 20% of them do not have an Internet connection. It triples for households in a precarious situation, as approximately 30% of households with an income of less than €1,200 per month do not have an Internet connection.
On the other hand, the inequality of access to the Internet reinforces the inequalities between territories. Indeed, in Belgium, there are white zones, i.e. territories not equipped with essential infrastructures, essentially Rural areas. For example, the 138,000 households which do not have access to optical fiber live in the rural areas of the provinces of Liège, Namur and Hainaut.
The second form of digital divide is characterized by the absence of computer equipment or quality and adapted equipment. In Belgium, 12% of the population still does not have a smartphone. The people most affected are generally those already isolated from society, such as refugees, the elderly and the blind and visually impaired.
Among those who do have a smartphone, many cannot afford to have multiple means of internet access. This is particularly the case for people with low levels of education, especially women. Indeed, 4 out of 10 Internet users only connect to internet from a smartphone.
This phone will allow me to stay in touch with the different administrative services and, being from France, to stay in touch with my friendsHuguette, 59
The third form of digital divide shows that it is not enough to have an internet connection and equipment to have real access to digital opportunities. Around 25% of Belgians are vulnerable to the digitalization of society because they have little or no digital skills. The people most affected are the elderly, especially women aged between 55 and 74. Indeed, almost 80% of them have only weak digital skills. But the elderly are not the only ones concerned: ¾ of Belgians with low education and low income are also in a situation of digital vulnerability.
The direct consequence of this lack of skills, coupled with the first two forms of fracture, is an exclusion from the opportunities that digital world can offer. Indeed, people in a situation of digital vulnerability feel lost in face of the digitalizatoin of services and social relations. For example, we can see an exclusion of socio-economic and cultural groups in the use of e-services: half of low-income and low-educated people do not buy online, 1/3 of them do not use online banking services. Even worse, the majority of people with low incomes (55%) or low education (67%) are not comfortable with e-administration, even though they are the ones who need the most social services provided by public institutions.
This brief observation shows that digital inequalities primarily affect the most vulnerable people and thus reinforce existing social inequalities. This is also what the King Baudouin Foundation’s report on digital inclusion in 2020 have spotlighted : “(…) the benefits of the growing digitalization of society would mainly go to socially, culturally and economically advantaged groups, and then increasing the gaps between social groups”.
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