The NBN is supposed to go a long way towards closing the digital divide between urban and rural Australia, between rich and poor but with around seven percent of the population denied the bandwidth of fibre to the home that divide will always exist.
Just how 'big' that divide is, and how significant it is are two quite different parameters and heavily dependent on how availability of digital services is measured.
For its just released 2012 'Measuring the Information Society' report report the ITU has come up with a quite different way of assessing the digital divide. When applied to developed and developing nations it shows that, far from having closed in recent years this digital divide is actually increasing - exponentially!
It argues that, while these indicators only provide rough approximations of the amount of bits and bytes exchanged worldwide through voice and data traffic over communication networks and it applies two new measures: subscribed communications capacity and effective communications capacity to measure the digital divide. On this basis, it says: "the divide is larger and growing exponentially when measured in terms of subscribed capacity."
The ITU has used a 'unifying metric' of bits per second to measure global technological capacity to community and to compare different technologies.
This is no easy task because there is no direct correlation between bits per second and capacity to communicate. For example, a mobile phone conversation is typically encoded at around 8.5Kbps while an average fixed line telephone conversation has a hardware performance or around 64kbps, but conveys no more information.
The ITU quotes analysis conducted by Hilbert and Lopez showing the average hardware capacity and the average information capacity for 30 different telecommunications technologies and a dozen broadcast technologies and from these estimates of subscribed communications capacity globally have been derived. Effective communications capacity is a measure of how much usage is made of this subscribed capacity.
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