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Digital divide

This phrase appeared in the US in the middle 1990s to refer to the gap developing between those who had access to the Internet and those who did not. The implication was that poorer groups were losing out through lack of access to the information available online (a deprivation also referred to as being information poor). It is now widely distributed and has become common in much of the English-speaking world.

In the UK it has recently been redefined to refer to people who can’t afford, or are unwilling, to buy new television sets to receive free-to-air digital terrestrial transmissions. The British government originally set a date of 2006 for closing down the existing analogue transmitters, a date that has since been revised to 2006–2010. One reason for pressing on with the change-over is that the government would be able to auction off the radio spectrum used by the old analogue transmitters. The trouble is that many people see no point in changing, and analogue sets, with a lifetime of at least a decade, are still being sold in substantial numbers, with no indication that they will shortly be obsolete.

Ministers want to gauge reaction to digital television from the kind of households that have been slow to make the change to multi-channel television. There are fears that, unless the take-up of digital spreads to the middle-aged and elderly, a “digital divide” could open up.

Guardian, Apr. 2001

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 5 May 2001

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 5 May 2001.