CTG Research Addresses the Digital Divide at the Local Level

Digital Divide

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 25, 2021) – Governments around the world are using information and communication technology (ICT) policies to foster the development of an information society. Yet, there is no clear evidence to suggest these policies are helping to align investments with needs at the local level, according to UAlbany Center for Technology in Government researchers J. Ramon Gil-Garcia and Luigi Reggi.

Writing in Government Information Quarterly, Gil-Garcia and Reggi examine how ICT policies focus on different targets, such as the private sector, public sector, or individual citizens, with each considered as a producer or a user of technology.

"Governments around the world are investing a great deal of resources on the development of an information society and these investments are particularly important as an attempt to close digital divides among countries and regions within countries," said Gil-Garcia, who serves as research director at CTG UAlbany and an associate professor at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. "However, there is an overall lack of evidence examining how the policies align with the needs at the local level."

Given this information gap, Gil-Garcia and Reggi set out to analyze the relationship between local needs and investment decisions aiming at bridging territorial digital divides. Their results identify four different regional strategies developed around four policy goals: broadband, digital inclusion, digital government services, and the use of ICTs in enterprises.

Gil-Garcia and Reggi analyzed the European Union’s allocation of funds for the 2014-2020 period to see how it compared with the previous seven-year window (2007-2013), with the goal of developing effective strategies for the next seven years.

They found that unlike the allocations to the 2007-2013 time frame, the current set of policy goals appear to be consistent with the local needs for information and communication technology, with funding for a given goal generally higher in the regions that need it the most.

This points to the recommendation that the EU keep existing requirements for developing evidence-informed ‘Digital Growth’ strategies for the next 2021–27 period, while strengthening existing support tools for regional governments.

"In particular, these strategies should be based on an analysis of existing local ICT needs, as  existing efforts to measure the current state of development of Information Society can help policy makers assess existing gaps and plan public interventions accordingly," said Reggi, who recently defended his PhD dissertation at the Department of Public Administration and Policy and is a former research assistant at CTG UAlbany.

In the EU, for example, the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) has noted wide and persistent gaps across European countries, when considering broadband connectivity, human capital, use of Internet services, integration of digital technology, and digital public services.

The EU has tackled these gaps in a two-pronged approach: improving broadband and advocating for a strong “digital government” strategy. While advancing broadband technology remains a challenge, particularly in remote areas, the “digital government” strategy relies more on the advocacy and support of local policymakers in order to succeed.

Gil-Garcia and Reggi found in their analysis that the allocation of financial resources for the 2014–2020 EU programming period seemed to be consistent with the needs of local areas.

"This evidence suggests that policymakers, at the time of the allocation decisions, might have been aware of the main characteristics of regional contexts and the gaps to be addressed through the use of EU funding," said Gil-Garcia, who noted that this should be replicated in the next EU programming period (2021-2027).