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The Digital Divide: Why so many people lack Internet access in their native language

The Digital Divide: Why so many people lack Internet access in their native language


In an ever-increasing global marketplace, you might think we as a diverse population of 7+ billion on this planet are breaking down borders and becoming more interconnected through the World Wide Web.

You would be right, if you speak English, Spanish or French.

According to a 2015 report by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, an organization that was started in 2010 to measure the growth and use of the Internet around the world, only 53 percent of the world’s population had access to sufficient content in their native language.

An estimated 290 million people gained Internet access in 2016, according to the Broadband Commission for Digital Development’s 2016 report, “Enabling the Use of ICTs* and Broadband: Understanding What Works to Stimulate ICT Adoption.” And as of 2016, an estimated two thirds of the world’s population lives within mobile broadband network coverage.

Yet wide populations of people still remain offline. It’s not because they don’t want to be online. Rather, it’s because there exists a lack of technology, funding and/or content in their language for the World Wide Web.

Obviously, lack of Internet is about much more than having relevant content in one’s language. An infrastructure has to exist, and people need to be able to afford the cost of having access. They also must know how the devices that provide access to the Web work. Additionally, according to the Broadband Commission’s 2016 report, social and cultural norms dictate whether certain populations, such as women, use the Internet.

In fact, of those who were not online at the end of 2016, a disproportionate number belonged to one or more of these populations: rural, low income, elderly, illiterate, and female.

So how do underserved populations get online? In an era where most people in the United States can post a Facebook update from their iPhone in seconds during a work break or scroll through their online news feed before getting out of bed, we might easily take for granted the hurdles that the world’s offline populations face in gaining online access.

One of the Broadband Commission’s recommendations is to increase investments in local languages, which can help promote effective use of broadband services. As a translation project manager working for one of the Midwest’s largest language service providers, my question to the Broadband Commission is, HOW? Would the commission consider enlisting in the expertise of language service providers to contract with qualified translators who are native speakers of under-represented languages and prepare relevant content for an online platform? A language service provider like the International Language Center can be a key player in supplying knowledge to the world’s underserved areas.

Without language and ways to exchange information across the globe, we all miss opportunities.

The International Language Center has translated tens-of-millions of words of web content for its global customers. As more and more people throughout the world find their way online, we are here, ready to facilitate translation and key communication across the global marketplace.


(*Information and Communication Technologies)


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