While Proximus works on national fiber coverage, one in five low-income Belgian households lacks a fixed internet connection. Research by the King Baudouin Foundation indicates a growing gap between the digitalization of low- and high-income households.

The foundation conducts annual research into the country’s digital inequality. The use of online services and the availability of internet grow, but not all citizens benefit equally. One in five low-income Belgian households lacked a fixed internet connection in 2021, the most recent report indicates.

Seven percent of the population did not use the internet while 39 percent had limited digital skills. The King Baudouin Foundation describes the group as “digitally vulnerable”. According to the researchers, individuals with low levels of education or income are at increased risk of digital vulnerability. 98 percent of all high-income households had a fixed internet connection. Only 82 percent of low-income households could same say the same.

“The position of the most vulnerable people in an increasingly digitized society is worrying and requires alternative solutions”, the foundation said. “The COVID-19 crisis and accompanying measures led to a greater digitization of our society. But the gaps remain: socioeconomically and culturally disadvantaged individuals struggle to keep up with the digital evolution.”

Gap

Young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are often seen as ‘digital natives’, but that profile does not apply to everyone, the foundation said. Nearly half of the age group with a low level of education had weak digital skills. The same is true for 22 percent of those with a high level of education.

Proximus, a state-owned operator, wants to cover almost all Belgian households with fiber by 2032. The Belgian government actively tries to improve the digital literacy of residents with several projects. “But despite the initiatives taken over the past two years, as a society, we have failed to digitally engage the most vulnerable”, concludes the King Baudouin Foundation.

Solution

The foundation calls on the government, businesses and citizens to invest in projects that aid all population groups. The foundation calls for more digital services accessible to residents without digital skills or fixed internet.

Tip: Only 54% of EU residents have digital skills