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This article provides a critical comparative analysis of mobile versus personal computer (PC)-based forms of Internet access. Drawing from an interdisciplinary body of literature, it illustrates a wide range of ways in which mobile Internet access offers lower levels of functionality and content availability; operates on less open and flexible platforms; and contributes to diminished levels of user engagement, content creation, and information seeking. At a time when a growing proportion of the online population is “mobile only,” these disparities have created what is termed here a mobile Internet underclass. The implications of this argument for digital divide policymaking and, more broadly, for the evolutionary trajectory of the Internet and the dynamics of Internet usage are discussed.

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Last month, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) – a multi-stakeholder coalition of ICT companies, civil society organisations, investors and academics – signed a cooperation agreement with another body called Industry Dialogue, or, to give it its full name, Telecommunications Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy. Why should journalism and media policy people care about this? Two reasons…

First, as Rebecca Mackinnon has pointed out on this site before, a free, open internet is crucial for press and media freedom – and that includes the mobile internet: 

All news organisations – whether their final news product is distributed online, in print, or broadcast – are increasingly dependent on broadband and mobile networks to gather, transmit, compile, and disseminate their reports and investigations. Whether the internet remains open and globally inter-operable affects the ability of all news organisations to obtain fair access to increasingly global or geographically-dispersed audiences.

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