Both government and society are now realizing the need to bridge the digital divide currently experienced by millions of Brazilians. Digital inclusion specialist and coordinator for institutional relations at NGO Rede Marista de Solidariedade, Alexandre Siqueira Mesquita, talks about the progress made so far in a two-part guest article for IT Decisions.
The advances around digital inclusion in Brazil are still incipient and precarious, both in terms of verification of such advances and in scope.
The assessment and collection of indicators are usually very difficult to make. One of the few studies conducted in Brazil on the subject and, therefore, the benchmark adopted by most researchers, is the Digital Divide Map (Mapa da Exclusão Digital).
Developed by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), the study was held in 2003 as the first significant survey on the matter, based on data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). It was the first detailed study to construct a profile of various social groups in Brazil around the contemporary phenomenon of the digital divide.
It was noted at the time that only 12.46 per cent of the Brazilian population had access to computers and the number of Internet users was even lower, at 8.31 per cent.
The FGV data confirmed the existence of a “digital apartheid” in Brazil, by showing that the typical computer user is white (for every 3.5 white individuals there was only one black), living in large cities in South and Southeast of the country and with income above the national average, and 12 years of formal study.
According to the survey, computer and internet use was greater amongst the so-called Class A, the top of the Brazilian wealth pyramid, with 89 per cent of all users. The proportion is significantly lower amongst the Class B (56 per cent). It is even more reduced when it comes to lower-income individuals from the Classes C (16 per cent) and D (two per cent).
This situation shows that the so-called digital apartheid has not been surpassed, since the overwhelming majority of the population lives with the digital divide problem.
Overall, the survey results indicate important trends that should be taken into account by policies related to digital inclusion. The exclusion is closely linked to income, region and education of potential users. Families with higher incomes own the necessary devices and broadband access.
Therefore, such structural factors lie at the core of the digital divide. In order to enable the massification of the Internet, digital inclusion public policies should focus on access from public spaces that could belong to the state or not.
In this context and since the late 20th century, both the Brazilian state and society have produced a series of successful initiatives based on local leadership to mitigate the digital divide.
In 2000, the first experiments in community telecenters without any government support took place inthe city of São Paulo, in the Capão Redondo district . The trials came out of a partnership between the Institute of Social Policies Florestan Fernandes and the NGO Sampa.org.
The first such venue put together with the support of the mayor’s office, the Telecentro Chico Mendes, was launched in 2001 in Porto Alegre, the capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.
The municipalities of Porto Alegre and São Paulo are pioneers in launching digital inclusion schemes at a local level. Such initiatives are grounded in the assumption involvement and participation of the Third Sector entities in the management of the telecentres.
Also in 2001, under the government of then president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the first National Workshop for Digital Inclusion took place, with the participation of several national entities. This year’s event – now in its tenth edition – will be held in November, in the city of Recife.
The Workshop for Digital Inclusion is a consolidated space in which all spheres of government, activists, venue monitors and telecenter organizers discuss and exchange experiences about digital inclusion in Brazil.
The discussions from several workshops that took place over the years enabled the creation of the key policies underpinning the Telecentros.br Program, launched in 2010 to combat the digital divide in Brazil. The program has a strong interaction with civil society organizations.
In the second part of this article, to be published tomorrow, Mesquita talks about a pioneering digital inclusion and software development project in the south of Brazil focused on socially vulnerable communities.
Photo by Cassi Mano licensed under Creative Commons