Korea has 'smallest digital divide' among major nations

By Choi Sung-jin

Korea has the smallest digital divide - the gap in the use of digital equipment and information - among 40 major countries, a U.S. survey shows.

In other words, Koreans use the Internet service and smartphones most evenly, regardless of differences in age, educational attainment and income levels, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

The survey of 45,345 people in 40 countries, including the U.S., Germany, Russia and China, showed 100 percent of Koreans aged 18-34, and 92 percent of older generations, use wired or wireless Internet.

That means the gap between young and older generations in Internet use was 8 percent in Korea, the narrowest among the 40 countries surveyed. In the U.S., the comparable gap was 14 percent (99 percent against 85 percent), followed by Germany's 19 percent (99-80), Japan's 33 percent (97-64), and Italy's 35 percent (100-65).

In Korea, 98 percent of educated people use the Internet while 89 percent of less educated people do so, resulting in the gap of 9 percent. The Internet divide by education for other countries were 11 percent in Australia, 15 percent in the U.S., 30 percent in France, 43 percent in China, 53 percent in Malaysia and 61 percent in Chile.

The gap by income was 10 percent in Korea, 99 percent to 89 percent, narrower than all others. The corresponding gaps were 13 percent for the U.S., and 14 percent for Canada, 16 percent for the U.K., 30 percent for Russia, 35 percent for South African Republic, and 40 percent for Peru.

In the digital divide over smartphones (equipped with mobile Internet and apps), Korea showed the narrowest gap among non-developing countries. The gaps in smartphone use by age, education and income were 17, 15 and 16 percent, respectively, far smaller than Japan's corresponding gaps of 46, 21 and 33 percent, respectively, according to the survey.

The survey was a quantitative one, simply asking how evenly do specific countries and demographic groups have access to the Internet and smartphones, not taking into account "how," and how effectively, they use these services, analysts here said. In other words, whether and how Korean users are enriching their lives by using digital technology is a different matter, which could not be measured by this survey.

The experts attribute the small digital divide in Korea to the well-organized wired and wireless network throughout the country, and strong inclination of Koreans to buy new digital equipment as if these products were fashion items.

"We cannot say Korea is an IT power just because it has high ratio of the quantitative popularization of IT technology," said Kang Jeong-su, an executive at Open Net, an IT research company. "There still is a dearth of services that can provide high-quality information for all, and most Koreans still rely on fragmented information provided by portals.

The nation should try harder to upgrade the quality of information and diversify it, Kang added.

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