According to the DESI 2021 Connectivity Index, Romania ranks above the EU average and 10th out of 27. The internet connectivity gap has narrowed sharply over the past five years – the percentage of those who have never used the internet decreased by 10% between 2018 and 2021. The situation is quite different in the area of digital skills. In this component of the DESI, Romania ranks 27th out of 27. In the latest data calculated by Eurostat, the percentage of people with at least basic general digital skills was 28%, almost twice as low as the EU average (54%). The study presents a detailed analysis of the digital divide in Romania and articulates a set of recommendations.
Digital Romania – country profile:
- According to the DESI 2021 Connectivity Index, Romania ranks above the EU average and 10th out of 27. In 96% of Romanian localities, the population can access fixed-line internet services, with 81% of households having access to the internet from home and 89% of the population using the internet. Young people and those with higher education are the most digitally active demographic groups (98% and 99% respectively use the internet), and pupils and students are even more integrated as almost 100% use the internet. In addition, 93% of the urban population uses the internet.
- The Bucharest-Ilfov region, followed by the West and North-West regions, has the highest number of households connected to the internet and the highest proportion of people with skills in using specific software (word processing, spreadsheet, image processing and video/audio processing etc.). At the opposite end of the spectrum are the southern regions, with lower values for both indicators.
- The most used device for connecting to the internet is the mobile phone, used by 97% of internet users, and for one in three users – the single device used.
- The internet connectivity gap has narrowed sharply over the past five years – the percentage of those who have never used the internet decreased by 10% between 2018 and 2021, but much more sharply for those aged 55-74 and those with low levels of education (by around 17% in both cases). Similarly, between 2019 and 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the national penetration rate for fixed-line internet increased by 5%, while the increase in rural areas was 9%.
- The situation is quite different in the area of digital skills. In this component of the DESI, Romania ranks 27th out of 27. In the latest data calculated by Eurostat, the percentage of people with at least basic general digital skills was 28%, almost twice as low as the EU average (54%).
- The most digitally excluded groups are people living alone (55.5% of single-person households do not have access to the internet from home), the elderly (about one in three retired people have never used the internet), those with low levels of education (29% have never used the internet) and those living in rural areas.
- There is a combination of deficiencies: people with low levels of digital skills and sub-optimal internet use are largely in the low education group. As technology advances, these deficiencies are expected to become increasingly acute.
Perspectives and recommendations
- Non-formal digital education provision is aimed in particular at students and young people as well as at urban residents. As the level of digital skills is lower among the elderly and the rural population, it is essential to focus digital education efforts in these areas to avoid widening the existing gaps.
- The social groups most affected by digital exclusion are the elderly, people living in rural areas, people with a low level of education, and people living alone.
- The excluded categories represent a large share of the Romanian population, adding, in the medium and long term, a high opportunity cost in relation to labor productivity.
- As society and the economy become more digital, the digital divide will have an increasing impact, leading to social exclusion, poverty, difficulty in finding or keeping a job, lack of access to public and health services, etc.
- Digital exclusion is not just about lack of access to the internet or digital skills training, but also about incomplete digital inclusion, which leaves various groups vulnerable and isolated.
- Romania has a digital infrastructure that positions it above the EU average, but the quality indicators of this infrastructure are declining. This, coupled with the development of cutting-edge technologies, increases the risk of digital exclusion or superficial digital inclusion in the future.
- We may notice the lack of collaboration and collective efforts in the field of digital literacy education. There is a need to develop an ecosystem with strong common strategic thinking.
- Developing a strategy to bridge the digital divide can be a process in which all stakeholders can come together and benefit from a common space to get to know each other better and collaborate.
The study on digital inclusion and exclusion in Romania is part of the project “Together in Digital Romania” of the EOS Foundation – Educating for an Open Society Romania. This project aims to unite all important actors in the field of digitalization to achieve and implement a coherent national strategy and sustainable digital inclusion The study is conducted by the Făgăraș Research Institute between December 2021 and April 2022.
Themes: Digitalization and A.I., Sustainable Development Goals, International Development, Philanthropy and Community Development, Education, Economy and Trade, Health and Health Policy, Environment and Climate Change