Ask the Experts: Development and the Digital Divide

Hernán Galperín, Denise Dresser, Rebeca Grynspan, Jorge Castañeda, and Jonathan Zittrain discuss how to close the digital divide.

Introduction by Hernán Galperín

In the early 1960s, the agricultural sector was far more productive in rich countries than in poor ones. The key reason, some development economists suggested, was the intensive use of tractors in the developed world. By 1961, rich countries had one tractor per 47 hectares (116 acres) of cropland, while the average in the developing world was one tractor per 990 hectares (2,446 acres). That led to what seemed an obvious conclusion: accelerating the mechanization of agriculture in poor nations would achieve increased land productivity, spur the development of new agricultural and related markets and lift living standards…

Hernán Galperín is associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and research associate at the Universidad de San Andrés (Argentina).

What is the digital divide and how can it be bridged?

Denise Dresser: In Latin America, reforms introduced in the 1980s and 1990s did not always lead to the emergence of dynamic market economies. Instead of transparency and clear rules, discretion prevailed due to the ties between business and the government officials supposed to regulate them. As a result, public monopolies were merely transferred into private hands.

This is particularly true in the telecommunications sector…

Denise Dresser is a professor of political science at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) and director of the North American Futures project at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Rebeca Grynspan: Internet access has to be seen as an instrument of inclusive development.
The main challenge for Internet access goes beyond “adding nodes to the network.”  Indeed, Internet access is an important issue in the region since two-thirds of Latin American and Caribbean citizens have never had access to an Internet connection.  Correcting this requires both public investment and policies for regulated private investment… 

Rebeca Grynspan is assistant secretary general, assistant administrator and regional director of the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations Development Programme.

Jorge Castañeda: Eighty percent of the world’s population does not have access to information and communication technology (ICT) and, above all, to the Internet. A digital and economic divide has formed between the developing and the developed countries, and one of the greatest challenges is the lack of infrastructure.

According to, only 25 percent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean is connected to the Web. More than half of those with access to ICT are young people who know how use the technology and do so intensely...

Jorge Castañeda served as foreign secretary of Mexico from 2000 to 2003 and is currently Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University.

Jonathan Zittrain: The biggest challenge is making sure that “access to the Internet” is true and full as the network is built out. Many people see mobile phones as the way to reach the next one billion network users. These phones are useful—and can, with the cooperation of the phone or network provider, do far more than place and receive telephone calls...

Jonathan Zittrain is a professor of law at Harvard Law School, and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He is author of The Future of the Internet—And How to Stop It.

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