An estimated 2.7 billion people – or a third of the world’s population – will remain without an internet connection in 2022, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which says new data points to slower growth in the number of internet users than at the height of Covid -19
Today, an estimated 5.3 billion people use the Internet worldwide. While continued growth is encouraging, the trend suggests that without increased infrastructure investment and new impetus to boost digital skills, the chance of connecting everyone by 2030 appears ever smaller.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has given us a major boost in connectivity, but we must maintain momentum to ensure everyone, everywhere can benefit from digital technologies and services,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “This can only be achieved with more investment in digital networks and technology, implementation of best practice regulations and a continued focus on skills development as we move into a post-pandemic era.”
The ITU’s new estimate of 2.7 billion people without internet connection compares to an updated estimate of 3 billion people without internet connection worldwide in 2021.
In 2019, before the Covid pandemic, an estimated 3.6 billion people, or almost half the world’s population, were not connected.
Amid concerns about slowing progress, the ITU analysis points to two major challenges in driving the world’s digital transformation:
• First, it will prove increasingly difficult to achieve universal connectivity – which actually means bringing the remaining third of humanity online. Most relatively easy-to-connect communities now have access to technologies such as mobile broadband, driving the rapid and widespread adoption of digital services. Those that are still offline mostly live in remote, hard-to-reach areas.
• Second, the transition from basic to meaningful connectivity—which not only gives people easy access to the Internet, but enables them to use it regularly and effectively to improve their lives—is complex. Such challenges are often overlooked or underestimated. Barriers can be slow internet speed; limited affordability of hardware and subscription packages; insufficient digital awareness and skills; and language and literacy barriers, as well as issues such as gender discrimination or the lack of a reliable power source. All of this needs to be addressed if everyone is to have equal access to online resources.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, says: “While the increase in the number of people using the Internet worldwide is positive, we should not assume that the robust growth of recent years will continue unabated. Those who are new to the internet will be the hardest to get online. They live in remote areas, often belong to disadvantaged groups and are sometimes unfamiliar with what the internet has to offer. So our goal must be not just universal connectivity, but universal meaningful connectivity.”
The ITU defines “meaningful connectivity” as a level of connectivity that provides users with a secure, satisfying, enriching and productive online experience at an affordable cost.
Globally, the number of internet users grew by 7% and internet penetration – the proportion of people using the internet – grew by 6% between 2021 and 2022.
However, growth is unevenly distributed across regions.
Areas with low Internet penetration have seen the fastest growth over the past year, following a typical diffusion pattern for new and emerging technologies.
• Africa, the least connected of the ITU’s six world regions, achieved 13% year-on-year growth in internet penetration. Today 40% of the population in Africa is online.
• The Arab States have shown robust growth, with the Internet now reaching 70% of the population.
• In Asia and the Pacific, internet penetration as a percentage of the region’s population grew from 61% in 2021 to 64% in 2022.
• America, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Europe each achieved 3% growth, with more than 80% of the population online in each region.
• Europe remains the most connected region in the world with 89% of the population online