1.1. Context: The Digital Transformation of Society and the COVID-19
1.2. Background: Digital Divide and Digital Inclusion
2. Rural Digital Divide: State of the Art
3. Research Problem: Ending the Gap of the Rural Digital Divide
- RQ1: In which areas has the academic literature proposed to act to overcome the rural digital divide in Europe?
- RQ2: What recommendations based on social research methods and techniques have been proposed?
- RQ3: Can recommendations of broad and rapid impact, which may be applicable to the current situation, be distinguished?
4. Materials and Methods
- The search “digital divide” into title, abstract, and keywords resulted in 6353 documents. This high figure is an indicator of the existence of extensive terminological standardization, so the compound term was considered adequate.
- Next, within the results, articles originally written in Spanish and French were searched to obtain equivalent terms that would allow searching databases in those languages (InDICEs CSIC, Cairn and Google Scholar). The results were “brecha digital” with 32 documents and “fracture numérique” with 19 searched documents.
- The terms selected for the scope of analysis of the digital divide chosen were three. After searching within the results for the word “rural”, we proceeded to select the most appropriate terms “rural communities” with 25,817 results in the title, abstract, and keywords, and “rural areas” with 131,729 results in the entire database. The specific term “depopulation” was also added to avoid possible silences, which yielded 4760 results.
- The following search equation was considered valid to express the semantic content of the information request: (TITLE-ABS-KEY (“digital divide”)) AND (((TITLE-ABS-KEY (“rural areas”)) OR (TITLE-ABS-KEY (“rural communities”))) OR (TITLE-ABS-KEY (depopulation))). Result: 479 documents.
- To develop the definitive search equation, we included limiters that were appropriate to the inclusion criteria for time and type of publication. The expression of the equation according to the Scopus interrogation language was this: (TITLE-ABS-KEY (“digital divide”)) AND (((TITLE-ABS-KEY (“rural areas”)) OR (TITLE-ABS- KEY (“rural communities”))) OR (TITLE-ABS-KEY (depopulation))) AND (LIMIT-TO (PUBYEAR, 2020) OR LIMIT-TO (PUBYEAR, 2019) OR LIMIT-TO (PUBYEAR, 2018) OR LIMIT-TO (PUBYEAR, 2017) OR LIMIT-TO (PUBYEAR, 2016)) AND (LIMIT-TO (SRCTYPE, “j”) OR LIMIT-TO (SRCTYPE, “p”)). Result: 131 documents.
5. Recommendations Related to Access and Connectivity
5.1. Broadband as an Essential Requirement
5.2. The Role of Governments in Connectivity
5.3. Design and Implementation of Policies and Programs
5.4. Technological Solutions
6. Recommendations Related to the Use of ICTs
6.1. Social Recommendations
6.2. Educational Recommendations
6.3. Economic Recommendations
- R1: Linking the improvement of connectivity to the dynamization of new business models and to the diversification of activities in the rural environment.
- R2: Ensuring the coherence of European, national, and regional initiatives.
- R3: Prioritizing the “speed of implementation” variable to ensure access to state-of-the-art technologies.
- R4: Exploiting the potential contribution of niche providers to broadband development.
- R5: Designing flexible training actions, adapted to the needs and circumstances of teachers who must deploy them in the areas of interest.
- R6: Optimizing the use of available resources, such as those in rural libraries.
- R7: Planning specific initiatives for vulnerable groups.
- The evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of the national and regional public policies adopted in the last decade to reverse the reduction of the rural digital divide.
- The analysis of the relationship between connectivity and economic development in the rural environment. In particular, it is interesting to explore and assess the effectivity of digital inclusion as a potential instrument to retain and attract population and slow down the depopulation process in isolated areas and districts with negative population growth rates. The existing literature lacks approaches that study the possible effects of overcoming the digital divide to reverse the depopulation and to promote the development of the rural world; while some authors argue that an ageing population can be a major obstacle to get the expected positive results.
- The design and implementation of digital skills training programs specifically aimed at people living in the countryside to improve social communication processes in general, considered key to promote social leadership, rural empowerment, and resilience, and to enable innovative business initiatives.
Conflicts of Interest
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