Same Access, Different Uses, and the Persistent Digital Divide between Urban and Rural Internet Users

21 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2015 Last revised: 15 Aug 2015

See all articles by Sora Park

Sora Park

University of Canberra

Gwangjae Kim

Independent; Hanyang University - Hanyang Cyber University

Date Written: March 21, 2015


While the provision of infrastructure has largely been successful in South Korea, the divergent uses after getting access to the networks have resulted in a new type of digital exclusion. The Korean government has implemented digital inclusion policies for several decades and the access gap has narrowed significantly. However, gaps in user skills and quality of uses persist particularly between urban and rural residents. This study explores how access, usage, and the perceptions of urban and rural Internet users differ in a highly digitalized country, with an attempt to identify new types of rural digital exclusion.

A secondary data analysis of a subset (N=3,641) of the National Information Society Agency’s (NIA) ‘2013 Information Culture Trend Survey’ was conducted. This is a nationally representative survey of Koreans age 7 and above (N=4,653). In this study a subsample of adults (age 20 and above) was used in the analysis. The age of the respondents ranged from 20 to 73, with an average age of 34. Among the respondents, 75.9% reported that they had been using the Internet for more than 10 years, and 73.7% reported using the Internet daily.

In terms of access, the rural-urban divide was not so evident. The frequency of online engagement and the time spent online were not different between the two groups. However, urban users had more devices connected to the Internet, and the proportion of online activities via mobile devices was higher than rural users. Urban users engaged more in SNS, IM and file sharing, while rural users were using email and e-government services. Rural users engaged more frequently in online participatory activities related to social and political issues. Usage patterns, the perception of trust and benefits were significantly different between the two groups. Urban users perceived online benefits to be higher and had more trust in online sites. The perception of online risks did not differ between urban and rural users.

Ordinary least square regression analyses were conducted in order to examine the impact of access, uses and online engagement on the perceived benefits among rural and urban users. The results suggest that the perception of overall benefits of the Internet is positively related to the frequency of Internet use, and engaging in production, communication and participatory activities. Both trust in sites and risk perception were positively correlated with the benefits. However, the perception of benefits was negatively related to the number of devices, age and income.

The dichotomy between haves and have-nots is no longer adequate in describing digital exclusion. Instead, we need to have a deeper look into how often, and how well, people use the available resources offered by the Internet. Many services provided online are targeted towards a critical mass and therefore may not meet the needs of rural users. This may explain why rural users, while using the Internet as much as their urban counterparts, perceive lower benefits and exhibit less trust towards online services. Furthermore, the differences in the devices that are used by urban and rural users suggest that despite the policies to remedy the gap, digital technologies advance rapidly and those who are lagging behind have to constantly catch up. Smartphones for example, can create a new type of digital divide. Digital inclusion policies must consider the rapid changes in technologies as well as the social context of utilizing them.

This study examined rural digital exclusion issues in a country where digital divide policies have been actively implemented by the government, and largely successful in terms of laying the infrastructure. A new type of digital divide was discovered in terms of users’ perceived benefits. This suggests the need for a new framework for devising rural digital inclusion policies suitable for highly digitalized societies.

Keywords: digital divide, rural, internet, digital inclusion policy, South Korea

JEL Classification: C42, O18, R58

Suggested Citation

Park, Sora and Kim, Gwangjae and Kim, Gwangjae, Same Access, Different Uses, and the Persistent Digital Divide between Urban and Rural Internet Users (March 21, 2015). TPRC 43: The 43rd Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy Paper, Available at SSRN:

Sora Park (Contact Author)

University of Canberra ( email )

Faculty of Arts and Design
Bruce, Australian Capital Territory 2601
0262015423 (Phone)

Gwangjae Kim

Hanyang University - Hanyang Cyber University ( email )

Haengdang Dong 17
Seongdong Gu
Seoul, 133-791
Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

Independent ( email )

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