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Digital divide in Pakistan: Barriers to ICT adoption

The digital divide in Pakistan highlights disparities in access to technology, impacting well-being and development. Bridging this gap is vital.

The digital divide refers to the disparity in access and utilisation of technological resources. Access to technological resources includes mobile devices, laptops, personal computers, and the internet, categorised as focal technologies. The digital divide, which relates to disparities in utilising digital resources for personal gain, entails a range of domains, including health, social relationships, and business. This is a prevalent issue that affects various segments of society, including individuals, households, enterprises, and geographical regions.

The importance of digital devices becomes evident, especially when considering the widespread acceptance and utilisation of mobile phones. In 2001, the mobile phone subscription rate was 18 per 100 individuals globally. However, this rate has significantly increased and currently exceeds 108 per 100 individuals globally and 106 per 100 individuals in low and middle-income economies. Nevertheless, Pakistan is not exhibiting a surprising trajectory in terms of the penetration of mobile phone usage. In the year 2022, it has been observed that the mobile phone subscription rate in Pakistan stands at 80 subscriptions per 100 individuals.

Digitalization, its impact and SDGs

The lack of sufficient penetration not only profoundly impacts individuals’ overall well-being but also carries significant ramifications for the various paths of development. Hence, this phenomenon has drawn significant attention, prompting an in-depth investigation into the digital divide among individuals in Pakistan and the various factors that contribute to this divide.

Digital technology and the digital economy have been largely credited with advancing communities and economies. The UN Sustainable Development Goals emphasise the role of Information and communication technology (ICT) in universal identity, effective government, financial inclusion, and employment development. According to the SDGs, Target 9.c of SDG 9, equal access to digital technologies is imperative across all segments of society and geographical regions. Three of the 169 SDGs’ targets – 5.b, 9.c, and 17.8 – are identified as directly related to ICT utilisation and availability.

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Importance of digitization in the development process in Pakistan

Pakistan’s government is committed to bridging the digital divide and improving people’s lives with technology. The Pakistani government implemented the Digital Pakistan Policy and Rolling Spectrum Strategy to achieve the goals. These initiatives aim to boost the knowledge-based economy by advancing the digital ecosystem. Additionally, the government has launched digital service programmes. These programmes cover land records, tax returns, e-governance, education, health, finance, and justice.

This study aims to analyse the influence of socioeconomic, demographic, regional, and personal factors on the digital divide in Pakistan. The study’s findings are crucial for Pakistan’s strategic goals of Vision 2025 and Vision 2035. The vision aims to elevate Pakistan’s global ranking to the top 25 economies by 2025 and advance it to the top 10 by 2047. To achieve these visions, it is imperative to transition to a knowledge economy. To achieve this, individuals must embrace the penetration of digital technology. Therefore, it is crucial to assess elements that have the potential to bridge the digital divide.

Findings of the study

In Pakistan’s vast and diverse landscape, a striking disparity emerges when it comes to access to digital resources. The revelation from the nationally representative data set depicts that 30 percent of individuals did not possess a mobile phone, whereas 56 percent possessed a personal mobile phone. In contrast, it has been found that, specifically, 13 out of 100 individuals reported ownership of a mobile phone and utilisation of internet services.

The results of the descriptive analysis show that 6 out of 10 individuals who possess mobile devices and have internet access are below the age of 30. The disparity in education attainment, as measured by the number of years of education, is threefold when comparing individuals based on their access to mobile devices and internet-enabled mobile devices. There is a two-fold household income disparity and a two-fold wage gap between individuals who own mobile devices and those who own internet-enabled mobile devices. It implies that individuals with internet-enabled mobile phones are at the upper quantile of income distribution.

Regression analysis

The findings from the regression analysis indicate that the lack of gender parity may serve as a factor contributing to the digital divide. Additionally, individuals with higher levels of education have greater access to internet-enabled mobile devices. Furthermore, being employed is positively associated with digital inclusion. Moreover, the digital divide is influenced by urban-rural gaps and regional disparities across the provinces. Research suggests a positive association between higher household income and individual wages and the likelihood of digital inclusion.

On the contrary, it is imperative to acknowledge the significant influence of age in describing the digital divide among individuals. Younger individuals exhibit a higher propensity for digital inclusion than their older counterparts, primarily attributable to self-efficacy. The study also observes the potential influence of employment statuses—agriculture and non-agriculture—on the digital divide experienced by individuals.

Conclusions

The study identifies individuals who are marginalised within the digital realm and outlines the necessary steps that must be undertaken to foster their inclusion. To address this objective, it is imperative to mitigate the gender gap, urban-rural divide, and regional disparities by implementing measures to reduce the disparity in opportunities and enhance the quality of digital infrastructure.

Furthermore, it is imperative to implement a comprehensive set of long-term policy measures to augment the average year of education and income levels of individuals and households, thereby facilitating a smooth transition towards the prospects of a knowledge-based economy. Facilitating the younger generation’s transition into human capital is of utmost importance, as it contributes to the realisation of the youth dividend. This is particularly significant due to these individuals’ notable presence of heightened self-efficacy phenomena.

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Journal reference

Shair, W., Tayaab, M., Nawaz, S., & Amjad, K. (2023). Digital divide in Pakistan: Barriers to ICT adoption. Bulletin of Business and Economics (BBE)12(2), 243-252. https://doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2020.1783276

Waqas Shair holds the position of a Lecturer at Minhaj University in Lahore, Pakistan. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Philosophy degree at the esteemed University of the Punjab, Pakistan. The primary focus of his research lies in the fields of Labour Economics, International Economics, Development Economics, and Applied Microeconomics. He has authored research papers and contributed to book chapters in esteemed international journals. Additionally, he has written various newspaper columns on contemporary economic issues, which have been published in reputable newspapers such as "The Nation," "Daily Times," and "Global Village Space."

Dr. Muhammad Tayyab holds the position of assistant professor and head of School of Economics and Finance at Minhaj University in Lahore, Pakistan. He earned his PhD from the esteemed Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). In addition to his academic role, Muhammad Tayyab also holds professional positions as director at MTN Trading Co., director at ZMH Trading and Co., and CEO at Jo's Collection. The primary focus of his research lies in the fields of environmental economics and health economics.

Sumaira Nawaz teaches economics at a college affiliated with the University of Sargodha. She is also assisting as a project adviser online and offline in different freelance platforms pertaining to macroeconomy. The primary focus of her research lies in the fields of applied macroeconomics, international economics, and development economics. She has authored numerous research papers in esteemed international journals.

Kanza Amjad teaches economics at a college affiliated with the University of Central Punjab. She is also assisting as a project adviser pertaining to macroeconomy at different freelance platforms. She has authored various research papers in esteemed international journals. The primary focus of her research lies in the fields of economics of debt and financial aids, international economics, applied macroeconomics, and development economics.