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A Bi-National Perspective of Digital Inclusion in Brazil and in the United States

A Bi-National Perspective of Digital Inclusion in Brazil and in the United States

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Published by JournalofICT
Journal of Information and Communication Technologies, ISSN 2047-3168, Volume 3, Issue 7, July 2013

Journal of Information and Communication Technologies, ISSN 2047-3168, Volume 3, Issue 7, July 2013


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Published by: JournalofICT on Jul 10, 2013
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A Bi-National Perspective of Digital Inclusionin Brazil and in the United States
A. M. Oliveira and T. Menezes
Digital inclusion
is an emerging cooperative strategy between private and public sectors to provide a path to digitalempowerment by establishing infrastructure, providing training, and building a sustainable support structure. It can also bedefined as the opportunity to access the Internet, and to educational and professional opportunities tied to this access. Previousevidence on the subject indicates that Digital inclusion can cause significant social and economical impacts to any society. Thisarticle aims to describe and made a comparative analysis of these impacts with a bi-national perspective. Brazil and the U.S,have complementary challenges and assets related to digital inclusion. The unique complementary challenges and opportunitiesin the U.S. and Brazil make the investigation in this paper an ideal opportunity to foster cross-cultural learning andimprovements to develop a workforce to address needs in both countries. We also compare technical and social-economicalimpact of digital inclusion in Brazil and in the U.S, and present some of the major achievements and challenges of implementinga public policy of digital inclusion in both countries. The results presented here indicate that the digital divide is still a greatchallenge faced by both countries, reinforced by the contrasting evidence of large growth in Internet access and in diversifieduses of ICTs as well as the continuity of large inequalities.
Index Terms
Information and Communication Technologies, Digital Inclusion, Digital Divide, Community Informatics,Telecenters, ICTs in Brazil.
1 I
he twenty-first century can be described as the infor-mation age, when the capacity to communicate is akey to human development in many levels. In recentyears, interest has grown in the use of 
information andcommunication technologies
(ICTs) as a tool for education,economic development, and social well-being in develop-ing regions of the world.
Digital inclusion
is an emergingcooperative strategy between private and public sectorsto provide a path to digital empowerment by establishinginfrastructure, providing training, and building a sustain-able support structure. Studies have consistently shownthat individuals with access to ICTs tend to have moreeducation, higher incomes, and higher status occupationsthan do those without such access. This holds true in theU.S., as well as globally, as pointed out by results fromthe World Internet Project [1].On the other hand,
Digital Divide
refers to exactly the op-posite: the lack of access to the Internet, and to education-al and professional opportunities tied to this access. Thesegment of the society with limited access to computersand internet are disadvantaged as to compete for jobs, tocommunicate and get connected to people, to learn andimprove their professional/technical skills. The term
Global Digital Divide
is distinguishable from the
Global Digital Divide
is the rapidly growingdisparities in the utilization, expenditure, and availabilityof technology on a worldwide scale. The global digitaldivide involves economic, educational, and social aspectsthat influence the levels of information communicationtechnology development in each country [2]. Accordingto the 2002 World Economic Forum report on the globaldigital divide, 88% of all Internet users are from industri-alized countries counting for only 15% of the world’spopulation [2],[3]. From the political point of view, theproblem can be elaborated in three aspects: global divide,social divide, and democratic divide [4]. The definitionsin [4] focuses on the gaps of Internet access only coveringinternational and domestic levels, and finally narrowsdown to individual engagement, mobilization and partic-ipation. However, due to constant technology develop-ment, the scope of the issue is expanding continually [5].In [6]-[7], the authors broaden the scope of the issue toinclude four major aspects: access, skills, economic oppor-tunity and democratic divide.
In the following sections of this paper, we take into consideration these four categories tocompare several aspects of digital inclusion in Brazil and in theUnited States.
Despite of the fact that the United State is a developedcountry and Brazil is still a country in development,
digi-tal divide
is present in both countries. However, the
public policies in each country have be orientedtowards different aspects. Since the late 1990s, the Brazil-ian digital inclusion public policy has been oriented to-wards social participation, job skills, citizenship, and the building of a public ICT infrastructure, while in the U.S.these public policies have been more economically orient-ed, geared towards access, and training with a focus on job skills [8]. The main reasons for digital divide in bothcountries may also differ, ranging from disparity in Inter-
A. M. Oliveira is with the Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI, 49931, USA.
T. Menezes is with the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, SP,Brazil.
net access related to geographic location (rural versusurban areas) and infrastructural limitations, to inequalityof income distribution and other social indicators.The U.S. National Telecommunications and InformationAdministration’s recent “Digital Nation” report [9] indi-cates that while virtually all demographic groups haveexperienced increasing access to broadband Internet, his-toric demographic disparities among groups have per-sisted. Globally, computer literacy is now a required skillfor all kinds of jobs, including occupations traditionallyconsidered non-technical. Economic competitiveness forthe United States will rest on our ability to provide the21
century workforce with
digital empowerment:
the abil-ity to use the wealth of resources in computing and theInternet to learn, communicate, innovate, and enhancewealth [9]. However, despite the apparent ubiquity of theInternet in American life, approximately 30% of the U.S.population still does not use it [10]. Digital inclusion is of such current importance in the U.S. that President Obamalaid out goals for improvements in his 2011 State of theUnion address. Hence, it appears that the digital divideconstitutes a real barrier to overcoming poverty and broadening opportunities worldwide.The group responsible for the Internet governance in Bra-zil is the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.BR).The CGI.BR is multi-stakeholder organization composed by members of the government, the enterprise sector, thethird sector and the academic community, in which therepresentatives of the civil society are chosen democrati-cally to participate directly in the deliberations and de- bate the priorities for the development of the Internet,together with the government representative [11]. TheBrazilian Internet Steering Committee mission includes:
Coordinating the allocation of Internet addresses(IPs) and registration in the <.br> domain;
Establishing strategic directives related to the useand development of the Internet in Brazil;
Collecting, organizing and disseminating infor-mation on Internet services, including indicatorsand statistics.In 2005, through the creation of its ICT Studies Centre(CETIC.br), CGI.Br started a national project for the de-velopment of indicators for the Brazilian Internet, whichled to the first national survey on the use of ICT in Brazil.Annual surveys followed after 2005.In the United States, the National Telecommunicationsand Information Administration (NTIA) conducted thefirst survey to assess Internet usage among what thestudy deemed the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' of Americansociety in 1995 [12]. Over the past decade, the trends inaccess and usage of ICT between the groups of UnitedStates’ haves and have-nots have been investigated. Sev-eral of the demographic access and usage gaps have nar-rowed, while others continue to show a lack of connectiv-ity for the group; these include gaps on the basis of raceand ethnicity, and income [13]. Similarly to other coun-tries such Brazil, the public policy makers in the UnitedStates have identified the digital divide as a concern inneed of a remedy, since ICTs have the potential to im-prove individual Americans’ lives [13]. Although fre-quency of Internet use among all Americans has risen(26% in 2002 used the Internet for more than an hour perday compared to 48% in 2009), still almost one third of Americans are not connected to the Internet [14], [15]. Inaddition to a divide in access to connectivity, researchershave identified a skill, or knowledge, divide that demon-strates a gap between groups in the United States on the basis of technological competency and digital literacy [6].The effort by the United States' government to close thedigital divide has included private and public sector par-ticipation, and has developed policies to address infor-mation infrastructure and digital literacy that promotes adigital society in the United States [5].Here we describe and analyze social and economical im-pacts of digital inclusion with a bi-national perspective.Brazil and United States are the two leading economies of the northern and southern parts of the western hemi-sphere, what make this comparative analysis an oppor-tunity to understand issues that can lead to improvementin the general standard of living in both countries. Wealso compare technical and social-economical impact of digital inclusion in Brazil and in the U.S, and presentsome of the major achievements and challenges of im-plementing a public policy of digital inclusion in bothcountries. The results presented here indicate that the
digital divide
is still a great challenge faced by both coun-tries, reinforced by the contrasting evidence of largegrowth in Internet access and in diversified uses of ICTsas
well as the continuity of large inequalities.
2 E
Brazil and the U.S. have complementary challenges andassets related to digital inclusion. The United States haswell-known strengths in technological innovation anddevelopment, particularly in the area of ICT. Yet, the U.S.faces lesser-known problems in connecting sizable seg-ments of the population to digital technology. In contrast,it is generally acknowledged that Brazil experiences manyof the common issues facing developing nations in bring-ing basic services, including ICT, to most of its popula-tion. At the same time, Brazil has quietly established areputation for quality work in technology, both in aca-demia and industry. Furthermore, ICT professionals inBrazil have been active and creative in addressing thelarge digital inclusion issues confronting them.
The uniquecomplementary challenges and opportunities in the U.S. andBrazil make the investigation in this paper an ideal opportunityto foster cross-cultural learning and improvements to develop aworkforce to address needs in both countries
.The economical aspects of digital inclusion
are directlyrelated with individual and business access to the broad- band Internet. The economical impact of the lack of  broadband access to Internet in the U.S. was recently in-
vestigated by the Digital Impact Group (DIG) and by theEconsult Corporation [16]. The study served as basis toestimate the cost of lack of broadband access (key aspectfor digital divide) in different areas of the society. Accord-ing [16] to calculate the cost of the digital divide, it wasconsidered that lack of broadband access:1. Limits access to goods and services, resulting in highercosts for households;2. Reduces access to education and inhibits learningamong children;3. Increases job search costs, which lowers both earningsand the chance of finding a job;4. Reduces access to health information; and5. Increases the costs associated with household financialmanagement.
EconomicImpactCategoryEstimateof annualcost of DigitalExclusionIntersection with FCC National PurposesHealthEd-uca-tionEco-nomicoppor-tunityEner-gyGovern-ment/Civic en-gagementPublicsafetyHealth Care $15BEducation $4BEconomicOpportunity$15BCivic En-gagementToodiffuse toquantifyE-Government$2BEnergy $100MPublic Safetyand Emergen-cy Response$4BTransporta-tion$100MPersonalFinancialManagement$2.5BConsumer Benefits$5BPersonalCommunica-tions andEntertainment$7.5B
Total $55.2B
Table 1: Number of economic impact. The blue cells indicate what issuesfrom the FCC national purposes are affected by each area improved bydigital inclusion [16]. M: million, B: billion.
Table 1 shows the areas affected by the digital exclusionand the six purposes of the National Broadband Plan cre-ated by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission[16]. The cost for lack of access to broadband Internet isvery high, especially in the areas of health care and eco-nomic opportunities, in both cases the “have-nots” seg-ment of the population would be clearly benefited byhaving access to meaningful information online. In thearea of education, research indicates that children withInternet access have higher standardized test scores,graduation rates, and earning potential [17]. That repre-sents $ 4 billion of earning potential growth, just for the40 million digital excluded in the U.S.. For the economicopportunites, the impact is even greater than in educa-tion, with the increase in the ability to search for jobs andapplying for them online, and participating on virtualassessments. According to [16], more than 40% of the un-employed people in the U.S. are digitally excluded (whichis even higher than the percentage average for the nation-al digitally excluded rate, 35%), and from these unem-ployed group, 10% get access to new jobs through havingaccess to the digital world (digital inclusion). This groupis expected to sum earnings of $15 billion in the wholenation (considering an average job salary of $30,000 peryear).A government that provides online services for citizens topay online bills and fees, to file tax returns and to processadministrative paperwork is called e-government. If theseonline services, that already exist, reach the excludedcommunities, additional cost saving can be accomplished.Considering an excluded community, it is estimated thatthe average cost for a person with transportation andparking is around $4.5 a month, multiplying this value bythe total number of people in those excluded communi-ties nationwide, the government can achieve $2 billion incost-cutting of travelling and personal time spent on theprocess of making a physical visit [16]. Another largeeconomic impact is in the health sector. By increasing theaccess to health information, health service informationand health services, it is possible to avoid health servicecost to providers and users, in addition to increase inquality of life and personal satisfaction. Access to digitalinformation has not only an economic impact but also avery important role in connecting people and overcomingsocial barriers. In a powerful information society, com-munication patterns, flow of information, social normsand practices can be exchanged and transferred effective-ly [5].The economical and social benefits of having access to theinformation available from cyberspace are crucial for dif-ferent purposes to different people. Everyday life activi-ties such as education, business transactions, personalcommunication, culture and entertainment, job search,and career development, can become faster, more effi-cient, and cheaper. The access to the cyberspace also in-cludes the opportunity to engage people to participate incivic/social movements. Therefore, digital inclusion is a basic need for people in society of this century; as such itshould be considered as an important factor for educa-tion, citizenship and social justice. According to [7], accessto digital resources can promote social inclusion, andtherefore it will be important for governments at all levelsto support initiatives that promote digital inclusion. Bothin the U.S. and in Brazil, the most excluded class is thelow income one, particularly because of the relativelyhigh cost of Internet access, which is prohibitive costly inBrazil (several times higher than in the U.S.)[8].Any investigation of social aspects of digital inclusionshould include: 1) examining the barriers that under-served members of the community must overcome; 2)defining the main elements that lead to social inclusionusing technology; 3) identifying the major aspects of digi-tal literacy; and, 4) defining the linkages between digitalinclusion and social disadvantage, which can help guidefuture research and policy interventions. In [18], the au-thor presents a way to connect digital inclusion to socialinclusion through an effective learning approach for digi-tal inclusion situated in the social context of the learners

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