On September 18, the Valdai Club hosted a discussion dedicated to the technological gap between developed and developing countries, titled “How to Avoid Inequality in Access to the Digital Future.”
The digital divide is a consequence of uneven access to computers, information, the Internet and telecommunications. UN and World Bank experts call access to the Internet an integral aspect of human rights. According to a study by Cisco, by the end of 2023 there will be about 5.3 billion Internet users in the world, which is 66% of the world’s population. In Russia, the level of digitalisation is noticeably higher than average — 78%. Nevertheless, at one of the congresses of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the government to find ways to eliminate the digital divide: “The sooner we do this, the better.”
The growing gap between rich and poor countries has now acquired a digital dimension. This became especially noticeable during the pandemic, when people without access to the Internet were deprived of opportunities to engage in distance learning, pursue remote work and the ability to maintain social distance. Developing countries have limited resources and the digital divide will continue to perpetuate their dependence on developed countries.
Multinational corporations seek to monopolise innovations, platforms and services. Rich countries plan to direct financial assistance primarily to the green transformation, rather than the digitalisation of poor countries. Under such conditions, the digital divide may become even deeper. It is no coincidence that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, presenting the programme for India’s G20 presidency, called for a “fundamental shift in thinking for the benefit of all humanity,” without which universal equality and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals are impossible.
How can we overcome the digital divide? Should poor countries expect help from rich countries in achieving digitalisation? Or is it better to think about a coalition of developing countries that would resolve this problem, for example, through BRICS? Participants in the discussion tried to answer these and other questions.
Igor Ashmanov, President of Kribrum JSC, Member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights
Jacques Sapir, Professor of Economics at the Paris Higher School of Social Sciences (EHESS) and Lomonosov Moscow State University
Radhika Desai, Professor, Faculty of Political Studies, Director of the Geopolitical Economics Research Group, University of Manitoba (Canada)
Arvind Gupta, Chairman and Co-founder of Digital India Foundation
Konstantin Pantserev, Professor at the Department of Theory and History of International Relations, Faculty of International Relations, St. Petersburg State University