3.9bn remain cut off from the Internet

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Developing countries now account for the vast majority of Internet users, says the ITU.
Developing countries now account for the vast majority of Internet users, says the ITU.

About 3.9 billion people remain cut off from the vast resources available on the Internet, despite falling prices for ICT services.

This is according to new data released today by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN specialised agency for information and communication technology (ICT).

The ICT Facts & Figures 2016 report shows developing countries now account for the vast majority of Internet users, with 2.5 billion users compared with one billion in developed countries.

However, Internet penetration rates tell a different story, with 81% in developed countries, compared with 40% in developing countries and 15% in the least developed countries.

"Access to information and communication technologies, particularly broadband, has the potential to serve as a major accelerator of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Global interconnectedness is rapidly expanding; however, more needs to be done to bridge the digital divide and bring the more than half of the global population not using the Internet into the digital economy," says ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao.

"2016 marks the year when the international community is embarking on the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 targets. ITU, given the tremendous development of ICTs, has a key role to play in facilitating their attainment," says Brahima Sanou, director of the ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau.

"ITU statistics inform public and private-sector decision-makers, and help us accomplish our mission: to make use of the full potential of ICTs for the timely achievement of the SDGs."

Cellular network

The report reveals mobile phone coverage is now near-ubiquitous, with an estimated 95% of the global population - or seven billion people - living in an area covered by a basic 2G mobile cellular network.

Advanced mobile broadband networks like LTE have spread quickly over the past three years and reach almost four billion people today - corresponding to 53% of the global population, the ITU says. But while the number of mobile broadband subscriptions continues to grow at double digit rates in developing countries to reach a penetration rate of close to 41%, mobile broadband penetration growth has slowed overall. Globally, the total number of mobile broadband subscriptions is expected to reach 3.6 billion by end-2016, compared with 3.2 billion at end-2015.

According to the ITU, global fixed broadband subscriptions are expected to reach around 12 per 100 inhabitants in 2016, with Europe, the Americas and the Commonwealth of Independent States regions having the highest rates of penetration. Strong growth in China is driving fixed broadband in Asia and the Pacific, where penetration is expected to surpass 10% by the end of 2016, it adds.

Mobile broadband services have now become more affordable than fixed-broadband services, with the average price for a basic fixed broadband plan more than twice as high as the average price of a comparable mobile broadband plan.

By the end of 2015, 83 developing countries had achieved the Broadband Commission's affordability target.

The ITU notes that by the end of 2016, more than half of the world's population - 3.9 billion people - will not yet be using the Internet. While almost one billion households in the world now have Internet access (of which 230 million are in China, 60 million in India and 20 million in the world's 48 least developed countries), figures for household access reveal the extent of the digital divide, with 84% of households connected in Europe, compared with 15.4% in the African region.

Internet penetration rates are higher for men than for women in all regions of the world. The global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. The regional gender gap is largest in Africa, at 23%, and smallest in the Americas, at 2%.

This year, says the ITU, international Internet bandwidth reached 185 000 gigabits per second, up from a low of 30 000 gigabits in 2008. However, bandwidth is unequally distributed globally, and lack of bandwidth remains a major bottleneck to improved Internet connectivity in many developing and least developed countries.

African growth

Market analyst firm Research and Markets says Africa continues to see strong growth in mobile broadband use and data traffic; the result of several factors which are providing a beneficial environment for investment and customer take-up of services. Overall forecasts suggest mobile Internet traffic across the region will increase 20-fold by the end of the decade, the firm notes.

Research and Markets notes this strong growth is supported by increased international connectivity as consortia of operators continue to develop submarine and terrestrial cables to provide the necessary backbone infrastructure on which data and networks depend. Indeed, growth in international Internet capacity to Africa has grown faster during the last few years than in any other region globally.

Capacity grew by about 40% in the year to mid-2015. Although connectivity in northern countries dominated growth for a number of years, the focus more recently has been on Sub-Saharan regions, the firm notes.

It explains that major projects include cables connecting southern Africa to Brazil and onto the US, while in August 2015 the West Africa Cable System was upgraded, delivering 5.12Tbps capacity for connected countries along the route from SA to the UK.

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