The Political Economy of the Digital Divide in Taiwan

Open Access
Hung, Chen-Ling
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 30, 2004
Committee Members:
  • Ronald V Bettig, Committee Chair
  • Dennis Karl Davis, Committee Member
  • Richard Denny Taylor, Committee Member
  • Chris Benner, Committee Member
  • digital divide
  • Internet
  • political economy
  • Taiwan
This study utilizes a political-economic perspective to analyze the digital divide, which argues that the inequality of Internet use is inherent in the nature of capitalism and is further deepened with the global expansion of capital and technology. Employing four entry points including history, ownership, access and policy, this study examines the digital divide from a global perspective while focusing on the case of Taiwan. Its findings suggest that Internet development in Taiwan is following similar patterns and exhibiting many characteristics found at the global level, including the role of the state and corporation sector in commercializing the Internet. The commercialization of the Internet has inspired a trend toward concentration of ownership in Internet-related industries which include media, telecommunications and information technology. This study also finds disparities in Internet use a reflection of existing social inequality in terms of income, education and location. The divide is further strengthened by information policy that tends to favor the interests of big corporations and ignore the needs of the poor. Furthermore, this study utilizes critical theories of the capitalist state to analyze information and industrial policies in Taiwan. It finds the role of the Taiwanese state has been transformed from a developmental state which led the nation¡¦s progress, to a capitalist state tending to yield to the interests of the capitalist class. This transformation signifies the decline of the state¡¦s autonomy, constrained by both internal and external political-economic factors. The analysis of the liberalization of Taiwan¡¦s telecommunications market and the move of Taiwan¡¦s chipmakers to China both demonstrate limits on state autonomy. In conclusion, this study provides thoughts on bridging the digital divide in the context of Taiwan¡¦s changing status in the international division of labor and the country¡¦s social inequality and discontent. This study proposes the principle of ¡§inclusive politics¡¨ by which representatives from civil society can participate in policymaking and make inclusive policy highlighting the needs of the poor. It argues that the solution to the digital divide is based on a society of justice and equality where civil rights are valued and promoted.