4 The Digital Divide

Parthasarathy Bhattacharya

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I. Objectives


The objectives of this module is to study digital divide in India and understand its impact. Highlight concept of digital divide (DD), various types of DD, their impacts, measurement, government policies and various initiatives to bridge the social gap. Discussed the issues prevailing at different countries. It also touched upon the role played by the librarians to narrow down this social menace.


II. Learning Outcome


On completing this module, you should be able to understand what ‘digital divide’ means, the different kinds of digital divide and the principal factors that lead to digital divide. You should also have an idea of the initiatives aimed at bridging digital divide.


III. Structure of the Module

1.   Introduction

2.  Definition & concept of digital divide

2.1 Why digital divide exists

2.2 Types of digital divide

2.3 Implications of digital divide

3. Exploring digital divide

3.1 Global digital divide

3.2 Digital divide in India

4. Measuring digital divide

5.  Barriers to bridge the digital divide

6.  Bridging digital divide

6.1 Government strategy for bridging digital divide in India

6.2  E-governance

6.3 Initiatives to bridge digital divide in India

6.3.1 State promoted initiatives

6.3.2 Private initiatives

7. Role of library and information centres in bridging the digital divide

8. Summary

9.   References


1. Introduction


The term ‘digital divide’ describes the fact that the world can be divided into people who have and people who don’t have access to and the capability to use modern information technology, such as the telephone, television, or the Internet and take advantage of their usage. As a result a mass divide is being created across the society affecting economy, education, information access, etc. It is a major concern of the governments and many citizens around the world. The digital divide exists between those in cities and those in rural areas. It also exists between the educated and the uneducated, between economic classes, and between the more and less industrially developed nations.


2. Definition & Concept of Digital Divide


According to OECD, (2001) the term digital divide refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at the different socio-economic levels with regard to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their use of the Internet. It reflects differences among and within countries.


This definition is exclusively focused on national and international level. The Digital divide is defined as by Cullen, (2003) as the metaphor use to describe the perceived disadvantage of those who either are unable or do not choose to make use of ICT in their daily life.


From the above definitions, the world can be divided into two sets of people who have and who do not have access to (information and Communication Technology) (ICT) or ability to use technologies, Internet, and other modern artifacts, such as telephone, television. Such differences are more prominent among rural and urban population, poor and rich people, and among developing and developed countries across the globe. Besides, digital divide exists based on race, gender, geography, economic status and physical ability; in skills, knowledge and ability to use information and other technologies. In a broader sense, the digital divide exists in global, regional, national, and state level. The concept can be better understood with following examples:


It is this disparity between the technology-rich and technology-poor, is known as the digital divide. The new technologies while improving our life in many ways have created what is called the ‘Digital Divide’. It has become a popular phrase to describe the perceived disadvantages of those who are either unable to use ICT in their day-to-day activities, decision making, learning and pleasure.
2.1 Why Digital Divide Exists
While there is no fixed answer to the question “Why digital divide exits?” answer of why digital divide exists is complex, as it depends on several factors, and many of which cuts across the globe. On the other hand some issues are very specific to individual country, region or state. However, major factors which is major attributes to digital divide includes following issues.•      The internet is expanding very quickly, and not all countries-especially developing countries- are able to keep up with the constant changes. Most of the developing countries have low Internet penetration, leading to denial of access to many web based information and latest technology. Digital divide does not just mean that someone doesn’t have the technology; it can also mean that there is simply a difference in technology. Other parts of the world do not have the same high-quality computers, fast internet, technical assistance, or simply the same telephone services.
  • Another reason of digital divide is economic inequality. The digital divide comes from slow diffusion of new technologies to selective sections in society or countries. Primarily, wealthier peoples and countries carry out these experiments with new technologies because they have disposable income. When desired results are achieved it benefits these countries or peoples. Initially, such newly adopted technologies remained expensive and beyond the reach of many countries and financially poor. It takes some time before the benefits percolate down the society. Such “divides” have occurred with every major technology including ICT application, information access, product development, industrial development, economic growth, etc. But over time, these divides closes considerably as the technology becomes less expensive and more tested.
  • One of the reasons of digital divide is social mobility. Even if there is enough diffusion of technology and access to information and knowledge, not all people can afford to reach to the knowledge hub. For example, not all kids are getting as much technical education as others because lower socio-economic areas cannot afford to provide schools with bundles of computers. For this reason, kids are being separated and not receiving the same chance as others to be as successful.
  • One of the important criteria of digital divide is a language barrier. Most of the contents in the web are either written in English or other foreign language, which Indian are not well versed. As a result getting benefit out of these contents are not possible.


There are other reasons for evolution of the digital divide as well. Some of such issues will be discussed in the types of digital divide section.


2.2 Types of digital divide


Information Age has so far touched only a tiny minority of the world’s population. If we define household access to the World Wide Web as a criterion for joining the Information Age, less than 10% of the world’s population had gained access by the year 2010. The question is how and whether the Information Age can improve the condition of life for the other 90%. The “digital divide” is widely regarded as a unitary phenomenon. In broader sense digital divide is the separation between the rich and powerful who are part of the Information Age and the poor and powerless who are not. There are at least three major divides:

    1.      A global divide between the developed and undeveloped worlds

2.     A social divide between the information rich and the information poor

3.     A democratic divide between those who do and those who do not use the new technologies to further political participation


Thus digital divide can be defined as economic, social or cultural deprivation generated by missing ICT access and skills. But viewed analytically, there is not one, there are some other major digital divides as depicted below in Figure 1.

Access Devide: The first divide is that which exists within every nation, industrialized or developing, between those who have access to Internet and who have not. Access to Internet is a primary measure of digital divide as due to economic, social, remoteness or infrastructure issues people can’t take benefit o the latest technologies. The digital divide is prominent across the globe between developing and developed countries as evident from the following table.


It is quite clear from the data that countries in North America, Europe and Australia have large penetration of the Internet which means these countries are reaping maximum benefits of the latest web based technologies. Whereas countries in Africa and Asia are still lagging behind, thus creating a huge digital divide. Further to this when we come to details of who all are using Internet in these countries, it is the rich urban population who have access to the Internet. However, as the time passed, the figure is changing rapidly throughout the globe.


Physical Disability Divide:


When only a limited % of population is using web related benefits, private, government and philanthropic organizations have come forward to provide access to Internet (eg. India) where people can come and access to Internet, as household connection to Internet in India as well as in other developing countries, are still in their infancy. In such case, people who are disabled and can’t move to where connectivity infrastructures are placed are worst sufferer.


Linguistic and Cultured Divide: Another type of digital divide is linguistic and cultural divide. In many nations this divide separates those who speak English from others. The disparity is quite clear when data are analyzed from urban, rural and tribal populations in any country. Besides, there are large differences in access to ICTs among different ethnic and cultural groups where they have more access to ICTs.


These cultural disparities are far more complex in Indian context, where these issues are compounded by linguistic issues. In India less than 10% of the population speaks fluent English while the rest (more than 900 million Indians and about 1.2 billion South Asians) speak other national languages.


Since most of the Web sites in the world are in English and other foreign languages (Figure 2), less than 10% of the Indian population can read and understand such online content. Thus, in practice, no matter how wealthy, brilliant, educated, prosperous or motivated they may be, computer use and Internet access are effectively having a lower priority in India specially in rural population.


However, the scene is changing. Indian government, academic institutes and some private organizations have already digitized their vernacular language contents and have put them onto the Internet for wider access. Further, the government policy of providing Hindi language a priority have witnessed lots of contents are recently being uploaded onto the Internet.

Further to this, absence of culturally relevant content in web domain is added more complexity in India. The number of web sites in Indian languages is miniscule, however, the process has begun to change with the help of some government initiatives such as Technology Development for Indian Languages (TDIL), Digital Library of India (DLI), Million Book Project, National Mission on Libraries (NML) and private initiatives of digital library development. Some sites are beginning to appear in languages like Hindi, Bengali or Tamil. However, scarcity of good, low-cost Indian language software is a major challenge to this recent development.


Economic Divide: The 1999 United Nations Report on Human Development highlighted growing digital gap between the rich and the poor nations. The widening gap between the information-rich nations of the North and the information-poor nations of the South is another digital divide at global level. At one extreme are the United States and the countries like Sweden, Germany, Finland, Japan, where household telephone connectivity is well over 90%, computer saturation is over 70%; at the other extreme lies most of Africa, most of South America, Asia, China, Indonesia, and so on — the 80% of the world where telephone connectivity is 3% or less (less than 30 million/1 billion in India), home computer ownership is 1 – 2% and Internet connectivity less than half of that.


This divide exists within the social groups of the same country as well. From the following Figure 3, it is clear from the data for the United States that as the income increases, more households have got access to the computer and Internet connectivity in due course. The low income population has put basic needs as higher priority, leading to widening of digital divide within the country. The same trend is available from India as well.


Education Divide: Education helps a person to enhance one’s knowledge. As people become knowledgeable, it is possible for them to venture into other innovative activities leading to social and economic growth of individual as well as for the country. Access to education therefore, takes a priority among human basic needs. However, the literacy rate in India like other developing countries are still abysmal. Distinctly, educated and non-educated people create a divide in the society where the majority of the power is enjoyed by the educated lot. An education based digital divide is created in India due to lack of access to education, lack of financial power, remote location, transportation, safety issues of women and many more. The above figure 2 also depicted the same as educated have more Internet access in the United States. The trend is being followed everywhere. Further to this socio economic status and financial power also play a key role in education digital divide. For examples, in most of the urban (city school) students are taught on how to use computers and frequently use Internet. Also, they use Internet at home due to better connectivity and economic privileges. On the other hand rural students hardly have any access to computers and Internet. Hence a divide is being created at the beginning of the study. when these students take up higher studies are likely to access more relevant and useful web contents more easily, resulting into better results and good prospects in life.


As we go up in the ladder in the education process, education based digital divide plays havoc among the students, professionals and other parts of the society. Access to new technologies for advanced study, training etc. requires a certain level of knowledge and digital accessibility. Besides, classroom based teaching modern education system has adopted several other technological means for teaching. With the emergence of broadband networks, video -conferencing, blackboard, educational television etc. are exploring the delivery of interactive contents and courseware over the Web. This poses the challenge of adopting a new paradigm for learning without abandoning the wealth of rich educational resources previously developed.


Telephone Divide: People who can access telephone were considered as elite class till recently. While most of the urban family was having telephone in India, rural population was primarily depending on local telephone booth, as a result social connectivity, information access were comparatively poor among rural population in India. As of mid 2002, telephone connectivity in India is extremely low (about 3%). Till the early part of this century, the telephone was a basic requirement for accessing Internet, which was very low penetration, therefore, Internet penetration was also very low in India. Later, of course, with advancement of technology, the situation has changed as Internet now accessible directly using Dial-up or Boradband connectivity.


However, this divide has largely been overcome in India, thanks to telecom revolution. In urban India, local telephone booth has become history, and rural India was also not far behind. Most of the population are having mobile connectivity these days and can access to people as well as Internet at their will. However, an interesting observation is that younger population in India is using mobile telephone far more easily over the elder lot. Therefore, even after the adaption of latest technologies, digital divide still persists. Similar results were found from other developing and developed countries as well.


Electricity Divide


In many developing countries including India, a substantial percentage of population do not have access to electricity as they were not connected to the grid and depends largely on decentralized power generation. This means people can’t have access to computers, Internet, telecommunication facilities and many more. For example, many of Indian villages don’t have electricity till date, leaving student little chance of study during evening. In this case, the more one use energy (electricity), it is the more chance that s/he will study more using computers and other latest technologies. In recent years, the per capita electricity consumption in India remains around 363 kW, far below 4959 kW in Hong Kong (one of the region’s technology powerhouses), 5421 kW in Britain and 11,822 kW in the USA. It shows why India has huge digital divide compared to other developed nations.


Transport Divide: In many developing countries, including India, rural transport connectivity is still evolving (in term of motorable roads, fast public transport system), leading to locational barriers for people to come to a town to access Internet. As a result, people who reside in remote places such as upper hills, remote villages, etc. are unable to take maximum benefits of the technological advancement. Urban population, therefore, enjoys digital connectivity much better and always stay ahead in terms of information access.


Printing Divide: Access to print resources for study is again another divide. It is predominant in almost every field including education, government, business houses and so on. Most of the organizations in developing countries are suffering from budget cut in libraries, leading to less subscription to print resources. Various initiatives taken by government in the past for national level repositories of print resources, have not performed well. In the developed and high income countries such problems are comparatively less perhaps due to better purchasing power.


Another prime issue in printing divide is accessibility to printing infrastructure. While in the cities, people have access to print, photocopying facilities installed nearby places, in rural areas one needs to travel a substantial distance to access these facilities. Such barriers, deter people from accessing printing which leads to printing divide.


2.3 Implications of Digital Divide


The digital divide has severe and far reaching adverse implications on the society, if not addressed properly. Several types of divide have been mentioned in the previous section that highlights that digital divide can create a line of differentiation between the digitally connected and non-digital people. Some of the adverse implications on the people and on the society are listed below:

  • Economic development of the country at various level
  • Income disparity among the society
  • Access to knowledge through Internet is severely impacted as most of the web contents are not written in vernacular languages which people understand
  • Negative impact on basic literacy rate
  • Advanced literacy level is severely affected
  • Advanced medical treatment
  • Job insecurity among people who are not digitally compliant
  • Personality development issues among younger generation and subsequent humiliation among all class of people in the society In essence, several factors that have long lasting implications due to digital divide in every aspect of modern society include:
  • Computer literacy: Those who can operate computers stand a better chance than those who cannot, though literate and otherwise competent, to get even a secretarial job let alone an administrative one.
  • Use of electronic data interchange (EDI): Business houses may lose orders in absence of competency in e-commerce. For example, an export company from a country that cannot use e-commerce over the Internet, may lose a large export order to another company from a different country that has collected more information through the Internet and submitted quotations through EDI.
  • Tech savvy operations: Those who know how to operate automated teller machine can draw money faster and those who cannot operate need to spend more time at manual counters.
  • Use of information: The cruelest blow is inflicted because of urban–rural digital divide. As an example, advanced medical treatment is still a deterrent to many of the rural population.
  • Working knowledge of English: Internet hosts more than 80% of the Web pages in English though only 54% of the Internet users are amongst English-speaking people. In India and other developing countries, the disparity is much wider, resulting in a language divide.


3. Exploring Digital Divide


3.1 Global digital divide


The global digital divide describes global disparities, primarily between developed and developing countries, in regards to access to computing and information resources such as the Internet and the opportunities derived or lost from such access. This gap describes an inequality that exists, referencing a global scale. As mentioned under types of digital divide, all such types in some form or the other exist in different parts of the world.


The internet is expanding very quickly, and not all countries-especially developing countries- are able to keep up with the constant changes. Digital divide does not just mean that someone doesn’t have technology; it can also mean that there is simply a difference in technology. Other parts of the world do not have the same high-quality computers, fast internet, technical assistance, or simply the same telephone service as we do. The difference between all of these is also considered as digital gap.


The recent Digital Inclusion Index, released by risk analysis firm, Maplecroft, uses 10 indicators to calculate the level of digital inclusion found across 186 countries (Figure 4). These include numbers of mobile cellular and broadband subscriptions; fixed telephone lines; households with a PC and television; internet users and secure internet servers; internet bandwidth; secondary education enrollment; and adult literacy.




Source: http://maplecroft.com/about/news/digital_inclusion_index.html

Figure 4: Digital inclusion index


As per Benton Foundation report, the facts about digital divide based on global perspective reveals an estimated 429 million people are online globally. The Internet users account for only 6% of the world’s population and out of that 85% of them are in developed countries where 90% of all Internet hosts are located. This is the essence of global digital divide. For the Internet to be a true mass medium, it will have to achieve harmony among all consumer segments. There are different dimensions to digital divide such as economic level of individuals, the economic prosperity of nations, ethnicity, age (young/old), rural/urban, gender, geographic location, quantitative and qualitative aspects, dial-up and broadband access.




In last decade the Internet penetration has increased manifold across the globe. Although it had happened more in developed world, developing world is not far behind. According to UNESCAP, in 2012


over 35.7% of world population is using Internet and out of that, percentage wise, 81.6 in North America (USA and Canada), 71.2 in Europe, 43.4 in Latin America,


19.0 in Africa, 47.0 in North East and Central Asia, 24.8 in South-East Asia, Africa and 13.6 in South West Asia. Even among highly developed nations, there exists a vast difference in the availability of home Internet access. Sweden ranks the highest home Internet connections whereas Spain has lowest homes connected. Interestingly, India has 12.6% Internet users which is about 30.2% increase in Internet users over the period of last 5 years. (UNESCAP, 2013).


However, it is interesting to note that the speed with which mobile digital divide is diminishing, others are not. Also, bridging is primarily happening at the urban level as barring mobile connectivity, rural tele-density and internet penetration are still abysmal.


In the early part of this century, the facts about digital divide based on the USA perspective reveals, percentage wise, about 51 homes had computer, where-in 41.5 homes had Internet access; 86.3 households earning US $75,000 and above per year had Internet access compared to 12.7 households earning less than US $15,000 per year. Nearly 65% of college graduates had home Internet access and only 11.7% of households headed by persons with less than a high-school education had Internet access. The rural areas, though still lagging behind urban areas (Benton Foundation, 2002).This rate has definitely improved over the last 10 years, however trend remains the same.


The analysis of global digital divide also put on light on many issues. For example, as per the current statistics (Table 3) available in the www.internetworldstats.com/ web site following countries have most Internet users. Interestingly, these 20 countries constitute over 75.9% of the global Internet users while rest of the world have a total of merely 24.1%.


Source: http://www.internetworldstats.com/


This undoubtedly has a correlation with the prevalence of digital divide. Moreover, in this list India is in third place and many developing countries have found their place. It shows that a severe digital divide exists in India and some other countries as most of the population still don’t have access to Internet in these countries. The high figure is undoubtedly due to high access of Internet by the urban population and economically privileged class.


3.2 Digital Divide in India: In any developing country such as India, many issues curb the development of the society. The governments have been striving to provide fundamental needs such as food, shelter, clothing, education which are top priority issues of the impoverished society. The other social problems like unemployment, population explosion, poor communication, and natural calamities have exacerbated the situation. Digital divide has really never got a top priority in any government agenda. The issues related to digital divide are cross cutting and require resolution of several other problems in different sectors.


In general, it is noticed that where people have not been able to get computer literacy, internet access and higher education is leading to a disparity in information access. Among the top 20 countries of the world internet users (Table 3), India is positioned at third place (4.7%) where as China stands first (23%) and United States at second (11.6%). Out of 1189.17 million of Indian population, 68.84% of population is spread over in rural areas. India has 74.04% (Maps of India) of literates in its population according to the 2011 census which has been increased by 9 percent comparing with 65.38% in 2001. Among this population the ratio of English literates and computer literates in India is 6% and 6.15% respectively. This clearly indicates following are the major reasons for digital divide in India:


•      Rural-urban digital connectivity disparity

•      Low literacy rate

•      Computer literacy is extremely low

•      Lack of IT infrastructure in remote locations

•      Low Internet penetration

•      Access to digital information access

•      Education disparity

•      Income disparity between rich and poor

•      Low purchasing power

•      Less regional information contents for Indian people to understand


of the BRICs nations, India is the only country to be classified as ‘extreme risk’, meaning that the country’s population suffers from a severe lack of digital inclusion. This indicates that in India digital divide is at a higher level. The distribution of ICT use in India and other developing countries is a cause for concern. For example, the wealthier, more affluent segment of the population, primarily based in urban areas, has embraced the use of modern web and communications technology. The growth of the middle classes in the country, which now sits at around 30% of the population, has driven demand for consumer goods, including ICTs. The vast majority of the population has, however, been excluded from this process. Most cannot afford ICTs (only 3% of households own PCs), lack the education required to use it effectively (India has secondary school enrolment rates of 55% and adult literacy rates of just under 63%) and are located in geographical areas that have little or no connectivity to ICT services.


4. Measuring Digital Divide


The infusion of ICT into a developing country paints the existing landscape of poverty, discrimination, and division onto the new canvas of technology use. Because ICT can reward those who know how to use it with increased income and cultural and political advantages, the resulting digital divide shows up in increasingly stark contrast. Underneath the apparent widening and narrowing of the ICT divides, the underlying trend is that privileged groups acquire and use technology more effectively, and because the technology benefits them in an exponential way, they become even more privileged. Therefore, ICT disparities usually exacerbate existing disparities based on location (such as urban-rural), gender, ethnicity, physical disability, age, and, especially, income level, and between “rich” and “poor” countries. Therefore, digital divide is always assessed in terms of the differences in the number of telephones, internet users or computers per head between rich and poor countries.


1.   Quantitative measures: In a quantitative sense digital divide will be measured as answer to the following questions.


•  What extent ICT has been proliferated in the country?

•  Who use computer and to what extent?

•  What is the education, income level of Internet users?

• What percent of the population is using advanced ICT application, web technologies such as e-commerce?


Answers to these questions and many others, when tabulated or graphically presented in statistical form, a clear picture normally emerge which can measure a country’s efficiency to bridge digital divide. It has been found that in most countries including India, several conferences, events and studies are being held to assess the digital preparedness and measure the deficiencies. Some other factors which are also often considered for measuring digital divide include:

  • Measures of the digital divide exists in number and cost (absolute and relative) of PCs, phones, Internet hosts, Web sites, Internet users, (residential/organizational/international) Internet bandwidth, technical capacity, and advanced applications like e-commerce.
  • The spread of Internet users among the world’s population is much more unequal than that of the use of other ICT such as TV or telephones. The inequality of Internet usage is even bigger than the spread of GDP between the world’s rich and poor countries.
  • The monthly connection cost for the Internet in much of Africa exceeds the monthly income of a significant portion of the population. In nearly all developing countries, phone calls are charged by the minute, and are often extremely expensive. Additionally, Web pages (and email) are becoming increasing graphic-heavy and “large” in terms of file size.
  • The dominance of English, and especially U.S. content, makes it less useful to other countries. Additionally, non-English countries produce less local content making the Internet less relevant to their lives, and less of a tool of self-expression and local communication.
  • Advanced uses of ICT such as e-commerce applications show even greater disparities than in basic access to computers. E-commerce is dominated by the U.S. and to a lesser extent some European countries. The U.S. has 64% of all secure servers in the world; the next highest is the U.K, with only 5.32%, and the vast majority of countries have less than 0.1% (Netcraft, January 2001 data).


Please refer to Table 2 and Table 3 mentioned above to understand the value of statistics in measuring digital divide. Table 2 highlights that while mobile penetration in India as well as other parts of world is extremely high, in fact in some areas even crossing 100%, but Internet penetration is low. This means people now have access to telephone and improve communication system, but still not taking benefits of web based technologies. Besides, here are some excellent examples of digital divide as listed below.

  • Wealthy nations comprise some 16 per cent of the world’s population, but command 90 per cent of Internet host computers.
  • Of all the Internet users worldwide, 81% North Americans are using Internet, where a mere five per cent of the world’s population resides. One in two Americans is online, compared with only one in 250 Africans.
  • In Bangladesh a computer costs the equivalent of eight years average pay, which is not the case in developed countries like USA, UK.


Gaps also exist and can be measured through surveys in adoption by gender, and the sector of disabled individuals show especially low levels of Internet use. Major cities are far more likely to have Internet, phone, and PC access than smaller cities and rural areas. These gaps are even more significant given the fact that more than 50 percent–and as many as 80 percent–of the population in poorest countries, live in rural areas.


2.   Measuring digital diffusion: The “number of users” as we normally observe any online statistics is only a small part of the “digital divide”. These statistics generally focus on the raw numbers of PCs or numbers of people using a technology, however, they do not measure how well people are using the technology, and whether the impact is positive or negative for themselves and their communities for business, educational, governance and social uses. Such data can only be collected through rigorous surveys and are hardly conducted.


While the current set of statistics can only provide rough estimates of how technology is used between countries and socio-economic groups, more than enough information is known to show that these divisions exist (many are growing) to spur reasoned action. The problem is that such statistics do not provide a clear plan of action. E-readiness assessment, combined with conventional “digital divide” statistics could provide this action plan.


E-assessments ask some of the vital questions that are missing in most digital divide reports — namely, how is the technology used in everyday life? Where and how often is the technology used in schools, businesses (internal technology and e-commerce), government (internally and e-government), and in health care (advanced medical treatment)?


5. Barriers to Bridge the Digital Divide


The barriers for the information access and digital literacy are the basic issues which are essentially to be addressed when talking about digital divide. Besides, following issues are also acts as barriers to bridging the gap in India.

  • Government policies need to be framed for digital divide issues as increasingly it is becoming social menace
  • Because of the over population, it has been difficult for governments to provide the required fundamental facilities and education.
  • Economic disparity is very high in India, resulting denied access to electronic gadgets, Internet, broadband speed, access to databases and other resources
  • Even in this digital age we still get to see many Indian villages without electricity and telephone line due to which, connectivity to the remote places and building vigorous infrastructure are unsuccessful.
  • Even geographical factors and transport divide have separated the communities living in remote places from the mainstream of the society.
  • As most of the information sources across the world are recorded in English language, people who are not English literates are likely to be deprived from information literacy.
  • The linguistic diversity has been a crucial impediment in balancing information access. English is the most used (26.80%) language in the internet.


Among other pertinent issues include the following:

  • Gender issues are one of the most prevailing digital divide issues in India as women have less access to the Internet than males. This disparity is partly attributed to perception that IT is a technical subject for men, with many female consequently shying away from it.
  • Physical disability: Visually impaired and blind people are fully able to use a computer due to advances in technology such as Jaws, which is one of many screen readers. However the Internet is inaccessible to the blind and visually impaired user because the screen reader is unable to read the graphically based web page.
  • Physical access: The main barriers under this point are lack of telecommunication infrastructure with sufficient reliable bandwidth for Internet connections and cost, the ability to purchase, rent without financial hardship and the necessary equipment. This result in lack of access to technology (Hardware and software). Further remote location is also act as barrier to access telecommunication infrastructure where available.
  • Attitudinal factors derived from cultural and behavioral attitudes towards technology e.g. those computers are for “brainy” people, for male, for young, and are difficult to use or belong to a middle-class “white” culture. Such attitudinal barriers keeps people away from computers as well particularly elder lots.


6.  Bridging Digital Divide


India is posing as one of the important global hub in the application of Information Technology (IT) to develop innovative products and services. However, these are used and practiced by only a meager percentage of the population, and is fueling to widen gap between the country’s privileged urban population and its under privileged rural population. The fruits of IT sector yielded results only to most developed and computerized economies. On the other hand, the Internet blue chips, online shopping and nanosecond email have failed to cure century-old malaises, viz. illiteracy, poverty and unemployment in India. Also, in India, digital divide is not restricted to less developed states (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa) with traditionally weak infrastructure but also to new IT states (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh).


The country has to realize this social menace and the proportion to which it has come up and accordingly stringent policy measures to be taken. India is making efforts to bridge digital divide through implementation of several projects, however, that has a very less impact on the society. There are literally thousands of initiatives aimed at tackling the digital divide, but they are bound to fail as long as they focus on just computers and connections, according to the report by Bridges.org in 2001. As compared to other analytic and prescriptive reports focusing on the broader role of ICTs in socio-economic development, the Bridges.org report is the most detailed and comprehensive report focusing explicitly on the nature of the digital divide, quantitative and qualitative measures of the divide, corporate/ donor/NGO approaches to overcoming the divide, project lessons, and policy alignment recommendations.


6.1    Government strategy for bridging the digital divide in India


IT initiatives at national level were started in the year 1981 with establishment of National Informatics Center (NIC) at all the district headquarters in India. Under the aegis of NIC, many projects like computerization of land records, Public Grievance Redress Monitoring System, Distance learning programme, computerization upto taluka level, creation of State Wide Area Network, video-conferencing, training programme for creating awareness etc. have been undertaken.


India’s political leadership is aware that IT is vital for the future growth of the nation. Keeping this in mind, in year 1999 Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MCIT) was formed. The Ministry adopted ICT for promoting literacy, improving quality of education, producing thousands of qualified professionals for direction of and supply of IT and IT enabled jobs for Indians. It is also using IT for good governance, for empowerment of people and their participation in shaping polices of governments and overseeing it.


To ensure that the benefits of an IT based economy reach the masses, MICT undertook a two pronged strategy. On one hand many steps are taken to ensure the growth of Indian IT industry at a fast pace following the international trends, while on the other hand, numerous measures have been adopted to ensure that benefits of technology reach the common man residing in the remotest part of the country.


The MCIT has ensured a proper regulatory framework to reign on digital divide with the passage of ‘Information Technology Act’ in the year 2000, open data initiatives and Data Sharing Policy 2012, which gave fillip to information technology and E-Governance activities and projects countrywide. Further enactment of ‘Right of Information Bill’ in year 2002 and ‘Right to Information Act 2004’ by the Parliament in May 2005 sets out the practical regime for people to secure access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote openness, transparency and accountability.


Further, in an effort to empower the villages of India and make them a part of the Knowledge Society, the Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) and NISSAT, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) were created. While NISSAT promoted scientific research access to common people, TIFAC had developed an integrated rural connectivity and linkage plan called ‘Rural Prosperity Through Connectivity’ (RTPC). The RTPC plan entailed creating a loop of villages of connected with both basic infrastructure and IT facilities to support a variety of modern services. However, at present these activities have taken different shape after TIFAC and NISSAT stopped functioning.


6.2       E-governance


The concept of e-governance has the ability to support to alleviate digital divide. The application of e- governance helps to reduce costs, inefficiency, inconvenience and ineffectiveness in service delivery. Though e-governance is gaining importance to a great extent in the recent years, due to many reasons like delays and changes in functionaries, shortages in money, lack of motivation, lack of coordination between departments of government, projects tying to election cycles and so on, many of the Indian government projects are not being successful to the expected level. In India, involvement and integration of people in crucial decision making for the enhancement of socioeconomic development has been easier than ever with the help of e-governance.




The essentiality of e-governance can have following features which are useful to bridge the digital divide:

  • As the government implements technology usage in regular work process, citizens’ will be forced to learn it in order to stay advance
  • The associated activities of government such as recruitment, online examination, surveys and tax payment are happening through computer and internet technologies which will bring down processing time and manpower cost and also brings accuracy in work.
  • E-bill, e-commerce and e-banking are giving new dimensions to the banking sector with great easement for the customers.
  • Similarly, Development of digital contents of government documents and reports, web sites, archives, museums, and other digital libraries (DL) have made easy access to information possible. Other government initiatives such as Data portal, TDIL, Million Book Projects, DLI, National Mission on Manuscripts, National Mission of Libraries, etc. have made access to information possible in no time and with no additional cost.
  • E-governance intensifies the direct communication between bureaucrats and common citizen. Makes the different integration of information from different corners of the society.
  • With e-governance Right to Information Act (RTI) which has become a right of Indian citizen may be implemented without obstructions.


6.3    Initiatives to bridge digital divide in India


Since the last couple of decades, there have been several initiatives taken by government as well as private bodies to bridge digital divide in India. However, in view of huge digital divide thoroughly penetrated in Indian societies, the volume of such initiatives may not have brought the desired results till date, but process has definitely been started in India. To boost up these activities, some policies have been changed as well. Broadly we may categorize these activities under state promoted and private promoted initiatives.


In recent years, the Indian government has taken active steps and modified policies such as open data initiatives, digital library developments, digitization of old government records. Further to this, many of the government processes, transactions have gone online. Moreover, e-commerce have been regularized and cyber act has been passed which helps both government and private bodies to put lots of Indian contents and processes online which is a positive step towards bridging digital divide. It is difficult to put forwards all such initiatives in this module, however, some important initiatives are listed below.


6.3.1 State promoted initiatives


Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan


In order to bridge education divide and provide minimal access of knowledge and education, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was launched by the Government of India. It is the largest ongoing Education for All programme in the world. The SSA is a flagship programme for achievement of universalization of elementary education (UEE) in a time bound manner. It was mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India in which free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right was made compulsory. Recently, union Government of India and the World Bank signed the Loan Agreement for World Bank (IDA) assistance for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan III.


Telecommunication Revolution


India today is considered fastest growing telecom market in the world. According to a report from telecom equipment maker Ericsson, Indian mobile operators added 28 million new users during the first quarter of 2014. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) puts the total telephone subscriber base in India at 68.7% at the end of 2012. The mobile subscriber base is growing at a scorching pace in the country. The pace of mobile subscriber additions may have slowed down but India still leads the global growth in new cellular phone users. The number of PCO’s in the country registering a growth of 7.22%. According to eMarketer’s projections, Facebook users in India will hit 108.9 million by the end of 2014 from 77.8 million in 2013.


Online payment portals


Now, across India government organizations such as railways, department of Telecommunications, National Informatics Centre, etc. have taken proper steps so that many of the activities can be done online by common people. Regular activities such as ticket booking, paying the utility bills, paying telephone bills, travel arrangements and most of the banking activities can be done online.


Government databases


National Informatics Centre (NIC) has streamlined all government ministries and organizations web site at a single platform (goidirectory.nic.in) in the form of a massive online portal, where common people can get access to all government departments. Most of the ministries have already uploaded their documents and records in their respective web sites for common use. Some of the major initiatives under this include census data, all NSSO surveys and reports, all records of the Planning Commission, all pollution related data etc. In a recent development Department of IT has developed a national level data portal (www.data.gov.in) where all government organizations are pouring their records at a centralized platform.


Digital Library of India


Department of IT has implemented a national digital library of India (http://www.dli.gov.in/) where over 176 million pages of Indian contents have been put in place. Several vernacular contents were uploaded onto this site which will help common readers to get information in their own language. The project is in progress and several centres across India have taken initiatives under this umbrella project and digitizing their contents.


National Mission on Libraries


Under the guidance of National Knowledge Commission, Ministry of culture is implementing a unique initiative for public libraries (PLs) in India i.e. National Mission on Libraries (www.nmlindia.nic.in) where all PLs will have links and their resources and OPAC (online public access catalogue) can be accessible. At present about 5000 PLs are linked through this web site and people can access their information. Further to this another new initiative in underway where information on all cultural heritages and artifacts will be made available through a single platform NVLI (National Virtual Library Initiatives).


Library Networks


Some efforts have been made by library and information sector at the government and UGC level to support information access to users and students. Library networks such as Information and Library Network (INFLIBNET) and Developing Library Network, Delhi (DELNET) are giving new dimensions to resource sharing and collection enhancement by broadening the prospects of accessibility. Several initiatives have been taken by these organizations particularly INFLIBNET including union catalogue preparation, consortia development, library soft ware and databases development etc.


Technology Development for Indian Languages (TDIL)


To develop information processing modules for facilitating human-machine interaction to overcome language barrier, TDIL programme (tdil.mit.gov.in/) was conceived by Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, GOI. It aims to create access and integrate multilingual knowledge resources through novel user products and services. As an extension of the programme, language technology standardization at national and international levels has been achieved with the association of ISO, UNICODE (Unique Universal and Uniform character encoding), World-wide-Web consortium (W3C) and BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards.




Vidyanidhi has been a remarkable project sponsored by NISSAT, DSIR, Govt. of India. Vidyanidhi is being able to provide about 100,000 Indian theses metadata and 5,000 full- text doctoral records. The speciality of this project is to provide theses in a few Indian languages like Kannada, Hindi, Telugu and Urdu over the website.




It is a project initiated by Andhra Pradesh (A.P.) government at district level which has enabled the citizens to pay property taxes online. As an extended facility it also gives details of plans and projects of the government and local bodies. e-Seva is another online real time integrated service delivered through several counters to deal with utility payment of electricity and water, property tax, registration of birth and death, issue of birth and death certificates and reservation of Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) tickets.


Bhoomi Project


It is a project by Karnataka government with the technical assistance from National Informatics Centre (NIC), Bangalore for managing online delivery and management of land records. The Bhoomi has computerized millions of records of land ownership farmers under this project. Each and every land record in the state can be viewed through this facility. This project has made the process transparency and avoids delay for the farmers that could happen to get in touch with bureaucratic hierarchy.


Kisan Call Centre (KCC)


KCC, a call centre, conceived by Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC), Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India (GOI), launched in 2004 across India. The project is delivering tremendous services by addressing the queries related to agriculture and providing information to farmers through call centres in their local language. The KCC has involved agricultural specialists to answer the queries round the clock.




Gyandoot is a pioneer project implemented in Madhya Pradesh government. Through Gyandoot intranet, rural cybercafes are placed at certain places like market and major roads where people can obtain information pertaining to agriculture. The information is also made globally accessible on an official website. The computers in the network have been established in Gram Panchayats (Village Committee). Kiosks called “Soochanalayas”, offer user-charge-based services to the rural people. The attempts are also being made to make the land records accessible through intranet for the review.




Lokamitra has been a successful project implemented by Himachal Pradesh government as a part of e-governance. It facilitates the citizens to get the latest government information at their door steps through “soochanalayas”, the information centres sponsored by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) located at all major parts of the state including remote areas (Lokamitra).


Vidya Vahini


Vidya Vahini is a project conceived by the Department of information technology, GOI in 2002. The project intends to provide computer education to 60,000 schools across the country. In its extended mission, the project has an objective to provide internet, intranet and television to facilitate video-conferencing, web-broadcasting and e-learning for the schools to communicate effectively and share information sources. This project was initially started in seven districts and spreading over to distinctive parts of India.




Infothela has been an excellent programme implemented by Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. The program targets to help provide and exchange information related to education, entertainment, agriculture, health care and government to village community who do not have facility for the access to information. A pedal driven vehicle called thela, like a common cycle rickshaw is used for this purpose where a personal computer on board connected to wireless internet is accommodated to deliver information.


6.3.2 Private Initiatives




E-Chaupal is one of the largest initiatives by Indian Tobacco Company (I.T.C.) Limited in 2000 which has been productively reaching its goal by providing information to farming community about market prices, scientific farm practices in their local languages. Sale of farm inputs and purchase of farm produce from the farmers’ doorsteps are the other aspects which e-chaupal assists the farming community with. The service is rendered over 40,000 villages through 6,500 kiosks across ten states of India viz. M.P., Haryana, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, A.P., Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is learnt that about four million people are benefitted out of this project (E-Chaupal).




Drishtee is an organizational platform in the private sector for developing IT enabled services to rural masses through intranet and a kiosk based revenue model. Through a franchise and partnership model, Drishtee facilitates the creation of a rural networking infrastructure. With nodes at the village, district, state and national level, Drishtee enables access to worldwide information as well as local services using its proprietary state-of- the-art software.


Muktabodha Digital library


Muktabodha Digital library project intends to preserve rare Sanskrit manuscripts and texts in multiple digital formats which are intern accessible through website worldwide. Bringing the tacit knowledge into global access has been a reality through this project. The huge catalogued repository of digitized Vedic manuscripts is made searchable through online public access catalogue (OPAC)


Media Lab Asia


Media Lab Asia (MLA), based in Mumbai, is setting up a wireless, 802.11 standard-compliant network to take Internet and voice connectivity to India’s rural masses. Set up by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Media Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in tandem with the Indian government, MLA is focused on developing and deploying technology solutions appropriate to bridging the digital divide in developing economies. Media Lab Asia has also set up a mobile Internet kiosk mounted on a bicycle; the onboard computer is equipped with an omni directional antenna for Internet service and is powered by a specially designed all-day battery.


National Association of Software Companies


All sorts of development, requires effective collaboration of private players. In India, National Association of Software Companies (NASSCOM) has played a pivotal role in narrowing the digital divide in India and enabling its citizens to enjoy the benefits of IT. NASSCOM is achieving its objectives by actively partnering with the Government of India and State Governments in formulating IT policies and legislation.


Role of corporate


The corporate sector too is discovering that bridging this digital divide could translate into new market opportunities. For example, Infosys, Wipro, HP Labs India, Hewlett-Packard Co., are developing products appropriate for India’s rural markets. Global Software Giant, Microsoft has also played a key role in bridging the digital divide in India by partnering with central governments and various State governments for various academic and other development projects. It also sponsors several initiatives in India.


Community participation


In Pondicherry, the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSRRF) has set up rural information centres for local communication and Internet access using solar and electric power and wired and wireless communications. ‘Mission 2007’ was a nation-wide initiative launched by MSRRF with over 240 member organizations to set up knowledge centres in each of India’s 600,000 villages by the year 2007.


7. Role of library and information centres in bridging the digital divide


The concept of digital libraries plays a substantial role to overcome digital divide as it opens up opportunities to information access for the users irrespective of geographical areas. The advent of digital contents and its universal access through LAN, WAN and web environment can effectively narrow down the digital divide. The governments across the globe have understood the issue correctly and have put huge efforts and investments to create, design and maintain modern library services in a digital environment. The modern library services are designed and delivered in a way that is understandable to the underprivileged users at different phases.


In the information era, librarians have been responsible to play an influential role in bridging the gap between tech-savy users and technologically underprivileged. To attain this, trained Library and Information Science (LIS) professionals are expected to play the role not only as an information manager with varieties of e-based services, but also as a technological educator such as trainers in database search service. In true sense, modern librarians can narrow down digital divide due to following reasons:

  • Librarians know how to manage and track down the information.
  • Librarians can value the importance of information standards the most such as common ways to categorize, sort, and act on things.
  • The information given by librarians has more credibility as they refer authentic and published sources
  • Librarians can teach people about information and media literacy.
  • Librarians can help the researchers to use information following the new norms and copyright laws.
  • They can also the best judge to develop the framework about what information is public and what is private.


What role can libraries play?


Modern libraries are mostly well equipped with latest technologies and e-resources. Libraries in recent years have changed their shape and services depending on the users changing and dynamic needs. Using these facilities, trained staffs and resources, libraries can play effective role in narrowing the digital divide in their respective countries, societies, organizations and localities to which they serve. Following are some of the activities that libraries are playing or can start contributing in bridging this social menace.

  • The modern library is in a position to play all kinds of roles that involves information management and dissemination. In the cognitive process of equating the opportunities, libraries need to come forward from their traditional services to carry on users needs and be act as academic/technical/special library which is subject to the users need.
  • With the help of teachers and educators librarians need to take part in teaching and training the deprived community on information use and disseminate knowledge.
  • Libraries can spearhead the programmes on Information Literacy through use of modern technologies and should be made a part in user education. In this direction, most of the universities including schools have taken future looking steps.
  • It is essential and desirable that libraries should train the users to correspond via e-mail and ICT applications that enhance user’s ability to use technology for communication.
  • Librarian can use information marketing techniques to create awareness and promoting services among the targeted communities using all possible communication media like journals, newsletters, newspapers, television, radio, posters, handouts etc.
  • Learning computer and internet is becoming a regular academic activity right from the elementary school level. Librarians should be competent enough to change the library into digital information centres for educating on technology at distinct levels.
  • Remote areas where computers cannot be set up and where there is no wiring and building, mobile computer labs may be effectively used. This concept has been borrowed from mobile libraries.
  • Making the catalogue of the local public library (also in vernacular language) accessible at the school computer lab gets the students exposed to online bibliographic instruction. This requires teachers, local public librarians and the information educators to incorporate and work together.
  • Resource sharing should happen mainly between academic libraries and public libraries. Providing access to the archives of e-books, e-journals and other e-learning modules to the underprivileged, academic libraries can bring tremendous progress.
  • Sufficient training should be made mandatory for the information professionals who participate in educating users.
  • While designing the library services and programmes for rural users, the local language should be considered as a medium of communication.
  • Libraries and information centers in the vicinity of particular region must co-ordinate their efforts with learning and research institutions, development agencies, community organizations and government departments to ensure the integration of the locally generated information in a digital form.


8. Summary


Despite India taking significant steps towards acquiring competence in information and technology, the country is increasingly getting divided between people who have access to technology and those who do not. At present, most of the Indian villages do not have electricity access, phone connection, no access to any form of technology, lies below the poverty line, and illiterate. Several policy initiatives have been taken by the Indian government to bridge the divide; however, still many more such coordinated initiatives are necessary taking both public and private bodies into this journey.


Government policy has often tried to meet the short term demands of their constituencies, but failed to provide a coherent long term plan for prosperity, or hindered the efforts of development initiatives and private sector markets to address ICT disparities.


National government can play a vital role in creating an environment that will foster technology use and encourage national and international investment in ICT infrastructure, development, and a skilled workforce. These include telecommunications privatization, standards setting, consumer protection, and government usage of ICT. Economic growth and social equity are both needed to bridge international and domestic digital divides.


you can view video on The Digital Divide

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