The Vancouver Community Network
The Vancouver Community Network (VCN) is a member-directed nonprofit charity that has been working to ensure no one is left behind in the digital age and improving service delivery and IT capacity for community and/or social sector nonprofits. Launched as Metro Vancouver’s freenet, or first public means of accessing the Internet, the organization has gone through as many rapid changes as the technology itself. Today VCN focuses its efforts on youth, the disadvantaged in the Downtown Eastside, and seniors, pushing for digital inclusion and social justice.
VCN has been fulfilling this mission since 1993 and continues to engage in activities, projects, and partnerships that aim to enhance the knowledge, experience and productivity of individuals, organizations and networks through increasing their access to, and effective utilization of, the Internet and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). VCN’s mandate is to support universal access to the Internet, but universal access is not only limited to providing the basics of software, hardware and connectivity. Instead, universal access in Vancouver is also dependent on the level of training, education and comfort one has in using these technologies.
What is the Digital Divide?
As technology becomes further integrated into everyday life, it becomes, increasingly, an essential and necessary tool for communication, government services, political participation, and business and commerce. However, this integration lies under the presupposition of ‘equal access,’ the idea that these technologies are accessible to anyone who wants to use them. In reality, this is not the case – there is a digital divide.
The ‘digital divide’ is a concept that describes the uneven distribution and accessibility of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This unevenness is often expressed as a ‘gap’ between those who have sufficient and effective access to ICTs, such as the Internet, and those who do not. There are a host of variables that can be attributed as determinants for the digital divide including physical (physical disabilities such as paralysis, blindness and deafness, which act as physical barriers to access), socioeconomic, political, demographic (age, ethnicity, and gender), geographic (urban or rural, and ‘developed’ country versus ‘developing’ country), and cultural.
‘Bridging the digital divide’ means to close the gap between the inaccessibility of ICTs and the ability to access and utilize such technologies. Accessibility is the extent to which and ability of someone to access and utilize something. This means that someone must have both the physical access to the technology itself and the knowledge or skills needed to use it.