The United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that 96% of the 2.9 billion people who do not have access to the web live in developing countries.
The agency said the estimated number of online users has grown from 4.1 billion in 2019 to 4.9 billion this year, in part due to “the connectivity boost of the Covid-19 pandemic.” . But, even among those internet users, hundreds of millions of people may only access the network infrequently, use shared devices, or face connection speeds that consistently hinder their internet usage. .
“ITU will work to make sure everything is in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion people. We are determined to make sure no one is left behind.” ITU Secretary General, Houlin Zhao said.
The number of internet users globally grew by more than 10% in the first year of the Covid crisis – by far the biggest annual increase in a decade. The ITU cites measures such as social distancing, school closures and the need to access services like remote banking for this effect.
But the growth is not uniform. Internet access is often not possible in poorer countries, with nearly three-quarters of people never going online in the 46 least developed countries.
Younger people, men and urban dwellers tend to use the Internet more than older adults, women and those in rural areas, with the gender gap more pronounced in developing countries.
Poverty, illiteracy, limited access to electricity and lack of digital skills remain factors that continue to challenge digital inclusion, the ITU added.