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Digital inclusion is giving people and groups the tools they need to use information and communication technologies (ICTs) in a way that helps them contribute to and benefit from today's digitalized economies and societies, which are growing quickly.
According to a 2019 UN report, nearly half of the world's population is still offline and unable to reap the benefits of digitalization. This has an erratic impact on socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals and groups, including rural communities, low-income households, the elderly, people with disabilities, and micro, small, and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs).
According to DataReportal, only 26% of Ugandans have access to the internet, one of the lowest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC), there were 17 million internet subscribers as of the end of December 2019, with 26.7 million mobile subscriptions. Despite these findings, a large portion of Uganda's population remains unconnected due to a number of issues, including high costs of internet usage and gadget purchases; poor infrastructure, including a lack of electricity supply, particularly in rural areas; and a general lack of infrastructure. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced workplace closures, many people have been forced to disconnect, while others, including businesses, schools, and governments, have gone online. Those who have been denied access to digital technologies are more susceptible to misinformation and disinformation.
Furthermore, the digital age is a major contributor to disparities in development levels between urban and rural areas. In comparison to rural areas, urban areas have much better access to information.
When one examines Uganda's national digital agenda, it appears to have everything in order at the policy level, but this has yielded no expected results, leaving no one behind in the digital era. Uganda, as a developing country, is not alone in this; many developing countries are experimenting with a variety of approaches to addressing exclusion in the digital economy and digital spaces. Uganda, for example, has undertaken a variety of efforts under the Universal Service and Access Fund to close this gap. The private sector, particularly Internet Service Providers (ISPs), has long used Pay As You Go models, as well as small volume data and airtime packages, to ensure that more people can access various digital platforms.
Although Internet usage and access in Uganda are improving, the visible divide is an issue that must be addressed as more citizens become netizens in search of information that is relevant to their lives. Many people are still unable to afford such services due to issues with affordability, availability, accessibility, and digital literacy.
The benefits of maintaining digital inclusion are numerous, as ICT and digital skills provide opportunities to increase labor productivity and revenues, create jobs, and support ongoing learning. It also serves as a social equalizer and economic enabler, democratizing education and ensuring diversity of opinion and consumer choice.
To improve digital inclusion, we must create infrastructure that allows for widespread access, availability, and affordability, as well as curate content that encourages greater and more beneficial engagement. We should also provide learning support to build digital literacy and skills, as this increases enthusiasm for digital usage.