Date of Award

8-11-2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Computer Information Systems

First Advisor

Mark Keil - Co-Chair

Second Advisor

Arun Rai - Co-Chair

Third Advisor

Edward Rigdon

Fourth Advisor

Lynette Kvasny

Abstract

Digital inequality, or the disparity in the access and use of information and communication technologies (ICT), is one of the most critical issues in the knowledge economy. This inequality prevents under-privileged people from exploring digital opportunities to enhance their life quality. Governments, business, and the public have devoted tremendous resources to address this issue, but the results are inconclusive. Theoretical understanding, complemented with theory-based empirical assessment of the phenomenon, is essential to inform effective policy-making and interventions. This dissertation explored the key factors that lead to the inequality in the access and use of ICT, particularly the high-speed Internet, between the privileged and under-privileged. I applied a belief-based perspective to understand how distinctive beliefs concerning ICT acceptance differentially influence under-privileged and privileged people¡¦s innovation decision and behavior at different stages of the implementation process. A theoretical model that drew upon the Theory of Planned Behavior, Motivation Theory, Social Learning Theory, Diffusion of Innovation, and Trust was developed to explain how cognitive, social, behavioral, and institutional factors inform digital inequality as a whole. The conceptual model and forwarded hypotheses in the dissertation were empirically tested using data collected from a large-scale field survey. The survey investigated the adoption and usage behavior of residents in the city of LaGrange, Georgia where the city government, aiming to address digital inequality, provided high-speed Internet connection and devices to residents at no cost. A complementary case study was subsequently conducted to examine a multi-stage process model in which various barriers and facilitators may prevent or promote the progress of individuals¡¦ ICT innovation. The results of this research reveal valuable insights into the differential patterns of ICT access and usage, and the key factors that cause them, for under-privileged and privileged people. The findings, in turn, suggest a segmentation and stepwise technology implementation strategy for people with different backgrounds and at different stages of their innovation processes. This dissertation makes several notable contributions for both researchers and practitioners. First, the dissertation contributes a holistic and theoretically grounded perspective that extends beyond the technology-centered view in most digital inequality studies. It also highlights the multifaceted nature of the phenomenon. As such, this research meets the challenge set forward by notable researchers to develop theoretical models capable of revealing the complexity embedded in this issue. Second, the dissertation presents a unifying theory reflected upon adoption and diffusion of innovation. Testing theories in the context of digital inequality extends and complements our existing knowledge about these related fields. Most importantly, the empirical findings derived from the rich data set identity powerful leverage points for stimulating the adoption and use of ICT among the under-privileged. With such insights, practitioners, particularly policy-makers and service providers, can formulate effective interventions to address the problem of digital inequality.

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