In preparation for the World Economic Forum’s annual event in 2017, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) published a working paper “Connecting the Unconnected” which offers current data and program updates regarding global broadband. It’s a very useful document — the endnotes are particularly impressive — and author Imme Philbeck deserves credit.
The document outlines the many reasons why 53% of the world’s population (~3.9 billion people) is still offline:
- Access: 1/3 of the world’s population is further than 100 km from a fiber connection (although 84% do live within range of 3G);
- Infrastructure: Many of the poorest on the planet don’t have electricity — a prerequisite for internet access;
- Cost: 57% of the world’s population can’t afford internet access as offered;
- Education: Only 44% of the world’s population has a secondary education or higher — a clear predictor of internet usage;
- Relevance: Many in the poorest countries don’t see the relevance of online services (and may be actively opposed).
The document outlines that progress is strong in more urban environments, but significant obstacles still exist in rural areas. New technologies (satellite, balloons, drones) may help, but are still several years from implementation. The issue of relevance and cultural acceptance may in fact prove to be the most daunting for the poorest regions.