It has become clear that the global "digital divide," between those who have access to the Internet and those who do not, is widening. Asian governments need to provide support and to create an environment which facilitates Internet usage among business, customers, and citizens, but which offers them some protection against the economic and cultural hegemony of the Western developed nations. This chapter will examine Internet usage in Asia within the global context. Asia is as diverse in terms of Internet penetration as it is in other social and cultural indicators. Some parts of Asia, notably Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea, have rates of per capita Internet access at leading international levels. In other parts, such as North Korea, there is very little access. In China, high access in the major coastal cities stands in stark contrast to minimal access in the rural areas. This inequality is mirrored to a lesser degree in India which, while in general it has very low rates of Internet access, is a major international provider of software expertise (see D'Costa, Chapter 3, this volume). Moreover, although Japan currently has the most Internet users in Asia, its per capita rate is not commensurate with its Gross Domestic Product.
The linkage between technology, economic and employment growth, social factors, and government policies is complex and the evidence inconclusive. For instance, the variation of Internet access rate among European countries of comparable wealth suggests that language is a factor in terms of penetration. Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, which have high levels of English competency, as well as Britain, have appreciably higher Internet access rates than Germany and France. In Asia, Singapore's high English competency helps its access to the international Internet while the Chinese economies have the advantage of a large common language area. Thailand, on the other hand, has neither of these advantages and this may be a reason for its low Internet rate.
This chapter comprises two sections. The first looks at the political economy of the global digital divide. The second section is an exploration