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Bridging the Digital Divide


November 6, 1999: This message was distributed by Papyrus News, a free e-mail distribution list on the global impact of information technology on language, literacy, and education. Feel free to forward this message to others, but please include this introductory paragraph. For information on subscribing or unsubscribing to Papyrus News see


[Before I start this post, please note a correction: it appears that the book Network-Based Language Teaching will be off the press in early December, not this week]

The BBC Website has a lengthy spread on the Digital Divide:

The report is more journalistic than academic, but does bring together a number of short reports and links to several other international studies.

Some of the claims in the report seems questionable to me though, particularly the statement that "More than 80% of people in the world have never even heard a dial tone, let alone surfed the Web." For a number of years now, I've seen claims (and have occasionally repeated them myself) that half of the people in the world have never used a telephone. This assertion was repeated recently by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at Telecom 99 in Geneva in October 1999. I've wondered on what basis this evaluation was made -- I've never seen any data from which the 50% figure was produced. But it does seem like it might be approximately true. But now a new claim that 80% of the world's people have never heard a dial tone? Sounds highly questionable to me.

If anybody has any reliable information on the percentage of people in the world who have likely used a telephone, I would be interested in hearing it. Or, short of reliable information, if someone would like to offer their own "guesstimate," based on a review of other telecommunications data, please let me know.

Mark Warschauer

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Last updated: January 12, 2000