Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Bridging the digital divide in the European Union

Addressing the digital divide requires a coordinated effort from various stakeholders, including governments, private sectors, NGOs, and communities.

Addressing the digital divide requires a coordinated effort from various stakeholders, including governments, private sectors, NGOs, and communities. Image: Unsplash/John Schnobrich

Vidhi Bhatia
Communications Specialist, Digital Inclusion, World Economic Forum Geneva
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The Digital Economy

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  • In 2022, 2.4% of people in the European Union could not afford the Internet.
  • In the digital age, it is imperative to ensure no one is left behind due to a lack of access to the internet.
  • The EDISON Alliance is working to bridge the gap and ensure equal access to the digital world.

In an increasingly interconnected world, access to the internet has become a fundamental necessity for participation in modern society. Unfortunately, millions of European Union (EU) citizens still face barriers to accessing the digital realm.

Data from Eurostat reveals part of the reason: many people simply do not have the financial means. In 2022, about 2.4% of the EU’s 450 million inhabitants could not afford an internet connection, a slight improvement from previous years. Of those considered at risk of poverty, the figure rises to 7.6%. The inability to afford internet connectivity prevents individuals and families from accessing vital information, educational resources, job opportunities, and essential online services.

The data also highlights substantial disparities in internet accessibility across EU member states. Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary face significant challenges, with a considerable percentage of their at-risk-of-poverty populations unable to afford internet connections. Conversely, Denmark, Finland, Cyprus and Luxembourg are at the forefront of digital inclusion efforts, boasting impressively low shares of individuals unable to afford connectivity.

The EDISON Alliance: Empowering digital inclusion

Addressing the digital divide requires a coordinated effort from various stakeholders, including governments, private sectors, NGOs, and communities. The EDISON Alliance is an example of such a collaboration, working tirelessly to bridge the gap and ensure equal access to the digital world.

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Founded in 2021, the EDISON Alliance is a consortium of public and private organizations committed to promoting digital inclusion worldwide. This coalition believes that internet access is not a luxury but a fundamental right every citizen should have. Through various initiatives and projects, the EDISON Alliance aims to break down barriers and create a more inclusive digital landscape. It does so by taking a three-pronged approach:

1. Affordability: Recognizing that cost remains a significant hindrance to internet access, the EDISON Alliance is partnering with telecommunication companies and policy-makers to establish affordable internet connectivity for low-income individuals and families. These initiatives ensure that the Internet becomes more accessible to those who most need it.

2. Usability and digital literacy: EDISON partners focus on digital literacy programmes to ensure that newfound internet access leads to empowerment. These initiatives educate citizens about online safety, digital skills and the potential benefits of using the internet for personal and professional growth. For example, the Huawei SmartBus initiative aims to educate 4,500+ children in 15 Italian cities. With a focus on responsible online behavior, interactive sessions conducted on the SmartBus help young individuals navigate the online world securely.

3. Accessibility: EDISON members work closely with governments and regional authorities to expand and improve internet infrastructure in underserved areas. The alliance aims to provide access to even the most remote and marginalized communities by investing in broadband networks. For example, the 5G Smart School project, a collaboration between Qualcomm Wireless Reach, WeSchool, and Telecom Italia (TIM), equips schools with cutting-edge wireless technology solutions. Leveraging Qualcomm Snapdragon 5G-enabled PCs and TIM's advanced 5G network, the programme brings digital tools and content to classrooms, empowering teachers and students, and enriching their educational journey.

Leaving no one behind

In the digital age, it is imperative to ensure that no one is left behind due to a lack of access to the internet. The Eurostat data is a stark reminder of the challenges millions of EU citizens face in accessing this essential service.

The EDISON Alliance’s commendable efforts in promoting digital inclusion offer hope for a more connected and equitable future. By nurturing collaborations between governments, businesses and communities, we can collectively work towards a Europe where every citizen can access an affordable and functional internet connection – a stepping stone towards a brighter and more inclusive tomorrow.

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