Over the past few decades, the Digital Revolution has facilitated social organization and interaction through the ‘compression’ of time and space (Hintz 2007); changing the way in which governments, businesses and individual citizens communicate at both local and international levels. It is undeniable that ICTs, which encompass both the “processing and communication of information” (Heeks, 2002, p.1) have contributed to revolutionary advancements in areas such as education, health and scientific research. It should therefore come as no surprise that ICTs or ICT4D are now playing an increasingly important role in the area of development (Granqvist 2005), with developing nations using new technologies “as a critical tool [...] to eradicate poverty, enhance human development, and achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)” (Pasha, 2005, v). Representing both knowledge and capability, these technologies follow the human development approach (Pieterse 2005), and according to Pitroda (1993) ICTs have the power to “raze cultural barriers, overwhelm economic inequalities, even compensate for intellectual disparities [...] (H)igh technology can put unequal human beings on an equal footing [...] mak(ing) it the most potent democratizing tool ever devised” (cited in Singhal et. al, 2003, p. 427).
ICTs and the internet in particular, have the power to transform “learning and knowledge-sharing [...] empower citizens and communities in new ways that redefine governance, and create [...] economic growth” (Rao, 2005, p.282). Due to this fact, most community media initiatives now incorporate web applications in addition to more traditional mediums of radio and television. In accordance with new social movement theory, community media take on the role of actors of change and “challenge society’s dominant codes” (O’Donnell, et al. 2004, p.4) by providing a voice for the marginalized. To accomplish this, community media initiatives often aim to educate and train people living in rural and remote areas on internet literacy, as well as, functioning as physical access points for areas not yet covered by broadband technology (CMFE 2005).
Incorporating ICTs offers the potential to fundamentally reshape the lives of the disadvantaged; however, “technology has all too often been used mainly to enable the rich and privileged to retain their positions of economic, social and political power” (Unwin, 2002, p.2). Howley (2010) goes on to argue that although the new mass media on Web 2.0 appears to have equal access, participation and democratization, in reality it contains the same traditional economic power base, founded predominantly on the ideals, culture and needs of developed nations.
The predominant ‘Northern’ culture of ICTs, in conjunction with low access and participation for poor and marginalized communities has led to a digital divide. Due to lack of knowledge and access to even basic ICTs, such as telephones or the Internet, many communities are left behind without, what many view as, a means to a prosperous future and “the road to a better life” (Granqvist, 2005, p.286). According to the Community Media Forum Europe (CMFE) (2005) there are at least three reasons for the digital divide, these being:
-Lack of technical access to broadband internet connection
-Lack of access to devices/computers for people in rural areas especially for citizens in
economic disadvantaged situations (and)
-Lack of media literacy and training for educating democratically involved citizens. (p.1)
Additionally, as the majority of web-based information is developed in English, speakers of other languages often face the challenge of receiving adequate local content. While progress is being made to deepen the range of information on the World Wide Web, it is still apparent that most content is intended for users who belong to the developed nations of the North. This has left local communities with little choice in terms of local knowledge systems and has created greater imbalances; thus demonstrating the fact that the digital divide is “an expression of social and economic inequalities” (Githaiga, 2005, The Way Forward section, para.3).
The digital divide, however, is a convoluted issue and as the world becomes ‘flatter’, a “more complex map of actors, networked in a global info-politics, is emerging” (Lovink & Sehle, 2005, p.5). ICT4D, according to Pieterse (2005), is largely dependent on corporate interests and digital capitalism. He therefore suggests that less emphasis be put on the internet, “a principally [...] middle class medium [...] (that) presupposes literacy and the ability to absorb or create content and digital literacy” (p.23) and place instead higher value on television, radio and the telephone. As more communities have access to these mediums, traditional media, such as community radio, can accommodate greater local input and have “greater outreach and development potential” (Pieterse, 2005, p.23) than new digital technologies. The Community Media Working Group (CMWG) initiated and led by AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters) follow this ideology and work to promote the use of ‘old media’ for the majority of the world’s population who live on the other side of the digital divide. (Hintz, 2007)