Barcelona advances toward equality in the use of the Internet across its different districts
The way information and knowledge are accessed has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. The immediacy and ubiquity of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) have spawned a whole new way of thinking, living and communicating. The digital transformation of traditional methods has required citizens to acquire new skills to adapt to this new situation. However, factors such as age, education, income level and employment impact this process, giving rise to what has been called the “digital divide.”
Specifically, the digital divide refers to the inequality between those who have access to knowledge via new technologies, and those without it. There are three types of digital divide: access, use and quality of use. In other words, the ability to access and to know how to use this technology, as well as the individual’s capacity to use the tools offered by the Internet.
The report The digital divide in the city of Barcelona, put out by the Mobile World Capital Foundation at the request of the Barcelona City Hall, describes in detail Barcelonans ICT access, use, and the quality of their use, in an effort to detect disparities between districts, with a view to resolving them. The Barcelona City Hall’s aim is to make ICTs available to all citizens, incorporating tech-based services to improve the city’s management and its relationship with citizens.
Barcelona is a connected city: for every 100 citizens, 85 connect on a daily basis. The city features Internet access and usage rates placing it on a par with the main European capitals. And yet, the city still faces the challenge of improving penetration in the neighbourhoods where income and education levels produce gaps in the use of new technologies.
The widespread use of the Internet by the people of Barcelona is reflected in the fact that 2 out of 3 citizens feature an intermediate or advanced digital profile: they use at least two devices to connect, and have performed at least four activities on the Internet in the last three months. The most common activities are checking e-mail, reading the news, and using social networks.
Where is the digital divide in the city of Barcelona located?
The variables that determine whether there is a digital divide or not include age, gender, occupation, educational level, nationality, place of residence and income level.
The report concludes that neither gender nor nationality are factors involved in the digital divide in the city of Barcelona. Being male or female does not determine Internet access or use, a fact that places Barcelona on a level with Europe’s Nordic countries. Also, while Spaniards connect to the Internet more from their homes and smartphones than foreigners do, the latter access these services in other ways.
Age, on the other hand, is a hurdle affecting the digital divide, especially after the age of 64. Until this age at least 7 out of 10 Barcelonans have a smartphone with Internet access, a figure that later drops. However, amongst those ages 65-74, two thirds have access to the Internet at home, and almost half also have smartphones. Nevertheless, the interests and vital needs of this segment of the population set them apart from the youngest when it comes to using these tools.
Three factors determining the digital divide in the city of Barcelona are profession, educational level, and income. Students and the employed are those most connected to the Internet (90% have access on their mobiles), in contrast to those fully dedicated to housework and retirees. What these different groups use the Internet for also varies: students make the most social use of it; employees use it for work-related tasks, the unemployed use it to look for jobs, and retirees use it for health-related issues.
Educational level is an important factor in all the districts, except in high-income areas, where the differences are less noticeable. There are significant differences based on education level, in both access to and the use of the Internet: people with less education access the Net 30% less than those with higher education. With regards to use, for example, it was found that the most educated use banking and administrative services more often than the less educated.
Finally, income level also affects the digital divide. Although the report concludes that there are not immense differences with regards to Internet access between districts by income level (79% of Barcelona residents in low-income areas have smartphones, as compared to 91% in more affluent neighbourhoods) there are differences in the way these citizens use these connections. In high-income neighbourhoods, for example, people consume more news than in low-income areas.
In addition, when the economic factor is combined with other variables, such as gender, age and education, inequalities do emerge with regards to access, use, and the quality of ICT usage amongst the citizens of Barcelona. For example, the digital divide is notable in low-income neighbourhoods in the case of women ages 65 to 74 with limited educations and who are not employed or dedicated to housework.
The data from the study carried out by Mobile World Capital Barcelona in collaboration with Roca Salvatella, GESOP, and 300000kms, as well as its subsequent analysis and the conclusions drawn from it, are available directly in the PDF version of the report.