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Internet of Exclusion: Billions Worldwide Still Not Connected To Internet, U.S. Not Immune

More than 50% of the global population will remain offline through 2017, says a new report.

Internet of Exclusion: Billions Worldwide Still Not Connected To Internet, U.S. Not Immune
[Photo: Flickr user Sundaram Ramaswamy]

There are over 7 billion people on Earth, but 4.4 billion (62%) are not online. While many are expected to gain Internet access by 2017, up to 4.2 billion people will remain disconnected, according to a report by McKinsey & Co. released Wednesday. And though 84% of the United States has Internet access, 50 million Americans remain offline.

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In the United States, the top reason people do not go online is because they aren’t interested or think it is a waste of time. However, there is also a strong correlation between connectivity and income. The report cites a study by the Pew Research Internet Project which found that only 77% of adults with a household income below $30,000 per year are on the Internet, while 99% of those with incomes above $75,000 are online. Furthermore, much of the U.S. offline population is made up of poor, older women who live in rural areas–showing the U.S. is not immune to global trends. The global offline population is “disproportionately rural, low income, elderly, illiterate, and female.”

The study also highlights some disturbing global trends, noting the annual growth rate of worldwide Internet users is slowing (from 15.1% in 2005-2008, to 10.4% in 2009-2013). This rate will continue to slow “without a significant change in technology, in income growth or in the economics of access, or policies to spur Internet adoption” the report said.

McKinsey & Co. found people remain offline due to four main barriers:

  • lack of incentive or awareness of the benefits of being online
  • low income
  • user capability (both a lack of digital literacy and real literacy)
  • insufficient infrastructure

Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Tanzania–where Internet penetration is a mere 15%–face the most obstacles to Internet adoption. Egypt, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand also lag behind, with only 19% Internet adoption. The United States, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, and Russia have low barriers but surprisingly account for 182 million people offline–a population that is disproportionately female and low income.

There is still hope, though. The study points out that progress or improvements to any one barrier will “have a disproportionately positive impact on Internet penetration.” It also notes that worldwide, governments are investing in broadband infrastructure and public Wi-Fi; network operators and device manufacturers are looking for ways to provide access cheaply; and content and service providers are focusing on technology that could improve “economic prospects and quality of life of Internet users.” This multi-pronged approach is crucial to increasing the online population, the study says.

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