Universal Connectivity: A Dream or an Illusion?

An annual research report by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) measuring digital connectivity around the globe indicates the world is far from achieving universal connectivity.

An annual research report by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) measuring digital connectivity around the globe indicates the world is far from achieving universal connectivity. Based on data collected by ITU from member states and other sources, the report accentuated:

  • Two-thirds of the world’s population uses the Internet, but 2.7 billion people remain offline.  Three-quarters of the world’s population own a mobile phone. However, the use in Africa stands at 40pc, the lowest among continents.
  • The uptake in connectivity seen as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has eased.
  • The generational gap in internet use is shrinking as it decreased by four percent from 2020.
  • Internet use in rural areas is slowly catching up with urban areas. Rural dwellers are 1.3 times less likely to use the internet compared to urban ones.  The urban-rural gap is almost bridged in Europe but remains wide elsewhere. 
  • Mobile-broadband subscriptions continue to grow strongly, approaching the level of mobile-cellular subscriptions.
  • ICT services become more affordable worldwide in 2022. The two connectivity price measures (Mobile data and fixed-broadband) have become more affordable in all regions of the world and for all income groups.
  • Low levels of ICT skills hamper progress to universal and meaningful connectivity.
  • Unrelenting global consumption of Internet data continues to drive demand for international bandwidth usage.

While most of the findings may appear promising, a wide gap remains between high-income economies and the rest of the world in network coverage and internet connectivity. In lower-income countries:

  • The gender divide in connectivity remains wide as 69% of men are using the Internet, compared with 63% of women. Generally, countries with the highest internet users have managed to attain gender parity while low-income regions such as Africa have made barely any progress in the past three years.
  • The biggest generational gap in relative terms is observed whereby 75% of young people between the age of 15-24 use the Internet, compared with 23% for the rest of the population.
  • Fixed cellular subscriptions are nearly non-existent due to the lack of infrastructure and high costs.
  • Internet use is currently half as common as phone ownership due in large part to the cost of getting online and lack of digital skills.
  • 95% of the world population is covered by 3G networks. Between 2015 and 2022, 4G network coverage doubled to reach 88% of the world’s population;

“In poorly connected countries, two of the biggest barriers to digital uptake remain cost and digital skills. While affordability of entry-level fixed- and mobile-broadband improved in 2022, the global gap remains far too wide.” – Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau

In addition, the absence of content in local languages, and low literacy levels prevent people who could connect to the internet from doing so.

The report pressed for the need to do collaborative work to meet the Sustainable Development Goals in based on targets set to achieve universal and meaningful Connectivity by 2030. Key enablers for improving Universal Connectivity are:

  • Addressing persisting gaps,
  • Digital skills training,
  • Improving speed and quality of connection,
  • Giving equal digital opportunities for marginalized groups including women and girls, and
  • Striving to ensure that every country meets the affordability target set by the Broadband Commission for
    Sustainable Development.  of less than 2% of monthly gross national income per capita.

Read the full report here.

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