A number of studies provide theoretical explanations for how and why the digital divide persists and whether it is widening or narrowing. These explanations can be synthesized into three categories: economic, societal, and political. Norris comes to the conclusion that
“the root cause of unequal global diﬀusion of digital technologies is lack of economic development” (Norris, 2001b: p. 233). As countries ﬁnd the economic resources to provide citizens with access to the internet, the divide will narrow. Norris acknowledges that with economic development must also come a change in the political will of governmental institutions to address these issues through traditionally overlooked societal groups, such as “poorer neighborhoods and peripheral rural areas, the older generation, girls and women, ethnic minorities, and those lacking college education” (Norris,
2001: p. 234). Notwithstanding the acknowledgment of these other minor variables, Norris clearly signals economic development as the key catalyst to bridging the digital divide. The second argument is societal in
nature. In order for societies to bridge the gap, people must learn more about the internet and how to use it. These arguments run along a spectrum. At one end is the position that knowing more about technology enables individuals to utilize it to increase their economic and political participation: “The higher the educational background, the more people use the internet in an instrumental way” (Bonfadelli, 2002: p. 81). The other end of the spectrum is that technical knowledge in and of itself is not enough to bring people to a point at which the technical knowledge gives them greater power and inﬂuence in the political and economic systems
in which they live (Bonfadelli, 2002; Neuman and Celano, 2006). There are too many other necessary factors, like socioeconomic status or political opportunity. The third argument states that political
factors are really the underlying force driving change. It is the formulation of new regulations and policies, or changes and adaptations in existing ones, that make a diﬀerence in how the digital divide is addressed. Though economic or societal catalysts for change have an impact, a ﬂexible and adaptable internet policy environment can make or break digital divide initiatives. While media use patterns are shaped by technical, economic, and social factors, the impact of regulatory and policy-making factors is understudied and underestimated, especially in light of Guillén and Suárez’s view that “Governments can implement speciﬁc policies that would make this medium more widely used by the population” (Guillén and Suárez, 2005: p. 697). They suggest that countries that understand this can have “the largest eﬀects in terms of magnitude” on the bridging of the digital divide. Ernest Wilson (2004: 56) makes a similar
argument. Successful technological diﬀusion depends upon a democratic institutional culture. In order to eﬀectively integrate technology into a society, Wilson proposes that political institutions play a strong, pivotal role in technology policy. In fact, a central tenet of his research “is that the information revolution is an institutional and political revolution more than a technical one” (Wilson, 2004: p. 56).