Exploring Digital Inequalities in Russia: an interregional comparative analysis

Gladkova, Anna & Ragnedda, Massimo (2020), Exploring Digital Inequalities in Russia: an interregional comparative analysis, Online Information Review, DOI (10.1108/OIR-04-2019-0121)

Abstract: This paper contributes to the literature by proposing an analysis of digital inequalities in Russia that focuses on two aspects hitherto under explored: the inter-regionality (by comparing and contrasting eight federal districts) and the multidimensionality of digital inequalities (by taking into account the three levels of digital divide). Therefore, the aim is to address the phenomenon of digital divide in Russia by discussing the three levels of the digital divide (access / skills / benefits) in a comparative and interregional perspective.

This paper uses secondary data for its analysis, including both national (e.g. the total number of daily Internet users in Russia) and more regionalized data (related to particular federal districts of Russia). The choice of data sources was determined by an attempt to provide a detailed and multifaceted coverage of all three levels of the digital divide in Russia, which is not limited to the access problem only. For this purpose, we are using and re-elaborating various reports about the development of the Internet and ICTs in Russia prepared by national and international organizations to cover the first level of the digital divide. To shed light upon the second and third levels of the digital divide, we discuss digital literacy report (2018), the report on Internet openness index of Russian regions (2017), and the report on the digital life index of the Russian regions (2016). Finally, in the attempt to map out the key directions of the state policy aimed at decreasing digital inequality in Russia, on both federal and regional levels, we analyze the most important regional and national policy measures to foster digitalization such as the Digital Russia program, the Digital Government program, the Program of Eliminating Digital Inequality in Russia.

We consider this study to be both a first exploration and a baseline of the three level digital divides in Russia. The paper shows how the level of socioeconomic development of the federal districts, as well as a number of objective factors (distance/isolation, urbanization level, availability of infrastructure and costs for building new infrastructure, etc.) have impact upon digitalization of the regions. As a result, several federal districts of Russia (Central, Northwestern, and, in a number of cases, Ural and Volga federal districts) more often than others take leading positions in rankings, in terms of degree of Internet penetration, audience numbers, use of e-services, etc. This correlation however is not universal as we will show, and some regions lacking behind in terms of access can be booming in terms of digital literacy or other factors, like it happened with Far Eastern federal district for example. All in all, our research showed that digital inequality in Russia is still on place and will require more time for complete elimination, even though current state and public initiatives are being actively developed.

This paper will bring to light meaningful insights into the three levels of digital divides in Russia. Based on a multilevel (three levels of digital divide) and multi-sectional approach (the interplay of different types of inequalities), this paper contributed to overall better understanding of the digital inequalities phenomenon in Russia. It also allowed for a comparative interregional perspective, which has been missing in most papers on digital inequalities in Russia so far.

Read the Author Accepted Manuscript

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