The United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that 37% of the world population, about three billion people, has never used the internet. 96% of the 2.9 billion people who have not accessed the internet live in developing countries.
It highlighted that the estimated number of people who have gone online rose to 4.9 billion in 2021 from 4.1 billion in 2019. This boost has partially been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the UN said that many hundreds of millions might only go online infrequently, via shared devices or face very low connection speeds. Houlin Zhao, ITU secretary general, said the ITU will work to make sure the building blocks are in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion. “We are determined to ensure no one will be left behind.”
The agency pointed out that in the first year of the COVID-19 crisis, the number of users globally grew by more than 10%. This, by far, was the largest annual increase in a decade. The ITU acknowledged measures like lockdowns, school closures and the need to access services such as remote banking – as having influence.
But the growth has been uneven as the fact is that internet access is unaffordable in poorer nations. The UN says about three-quarters of people have never been online in the 46 least-developed countries. Moreover, younger people, men and urban dwellers are more likely to use the internet than older adults, women and those in rural areas. Gender gap is more pronounced in developing nations.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, ITU, said the internet divide runs deep between developed and developing countries. “Only a third of the population in Africa is using the internet. In Europe, the shares are almost 90%, which is the gap between those two regions of almost 60%. And there is what the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called in his Common Agenda blueprint for the future, ‘a connectivity Grand Canyon’.”