Digital divide widens in e-stonia

  • 2002-10-03
  • Aleksei Gunter

Over 60 percent of adults in Estonia do not use the Internet, according to a newly published survey which questions how far Estonia is a pioneering example to the rest of Eastern Europe in the information technology sphere.

One-third of those adults who do not browse the Internet understand the possibilities it offers and would like to use the Web, but lack either the necessary skills or access to the Internet, says the survey.

The survey commissioned by the Open Estonia Foundation, the state chancellery and the Look@World project was carried out by the Emor market research agency and Praxis think tank.

The purpose was to establish who is being left out of the e-revolution and why.

"While previous studies on the same subject considered mostly the economic side we tried to cover social and psychological aspects. We wanted to find out why some people do not use the Internet," said Emor's project manager Mari Kalkun.

"The economic problems (of people who cannot afford Internet access at home) cannot be expected to be solved in the next few years, and other solutions are necessary to enhance Internet penetration," reads the survey.

Tarmo Kalvet, analyst for the Praxis think tank, urged the state to take action to surmount the barriers that hamper access to public Internet points.

He highlighted a number of these barriers. "First, (older blue collar workers) think the public access points are for younger and more skilled people. Second, going to a public Internet point requires a substantial effort - reserving a computer in advance and changing one's schedule because opening hours are often inconvenient for working people," said Kalvet.

However, the most important hindrance to wider Internet usage seems to be people's unwillingness to change, he added.

"Estonia is not the first country in the world to encounter a digital divide. The U.S. and Singapore have successfully fought that by opening public Internet access points, building related infrastructure and offering discounts for Internet access to certain groups of the population," said Kalvet.

Estonia's Look@World, a collaboration between the public and private sectors, has been the driving force behind widening access.

In August this year Estonia had 459 public Internet access points, of which about half were opened in the previous year with the help of Look@World.

The survey also found that people generally believe online banks to be as safe and useful as regular bank offices, but they have little trust in accessing public services online.

"People think a lot depends upon the will of certain officials and that it is impossible to have everything done online in the public sector," said Kalkun.

Among the concrete things people would like to access online are health care and general public services such as reserving an appointment with a doctor or consulting an official.

Currently Tallinn's municipal authorities have received no support from Look@World. But the city's Kristiine district has run four computer and Internet training programs for around 40 older people and disabled people.

Six pensioners and six disabled persons started another course on Sept. 24.

"Unfortunately we do not have enough computers to educate more people at once," said Kristiine district's head Lauri Laasi.

"Our main goal is to convince older people they do not need to be afraid of a computer. I think we have succeeded because most of them have finally started to use online banking," Laasi said.