As a part of Facebook’s global internet connectivity project Internet.org, the company issues reports on the state of the web around the world, providing valuable insight into how the world is connecting to the internet. Its latest report — State of Connectivity: A Report on Global Internet Access — takes stock of how many people have access to the internet, the rate at which more are connecting, and how the future of connectivity will look.
The report found that internet adoption is slowing for the fourth consecutive year. It grew by 6.6% in 2014, compared to 14.7% in 2010. The expectation is that 3 billion people will be online by “early 2015”, but the report notes that that means only 40% of the world’s population has ever connected to the internet. Unsurprisingly, developing economies are the least connected: “78% of the population in the developed world is online compared to just 32% in emerging economies.” The research dubs three elements that are the biggest obstacles when considering how to connect the rest of the world: infrastructure, affordability, and relevance.
Infrastructure – More than 90% of the world’s population lives within range of a mobile signal. This means that we will need to look at issues like affordability and awareness in order to connect the majority of people.
Affordability – Globally, monthly data plans with a cap of 250MB are affordable to 50% of the population. Reducing this cap to 100MB achieves 80% affordability and 20MB reaches 90% affordability. But in locations like Sub-Saharan Africa where 69% of people live on less than $2 per day, only 53% of the population can afford the internet with a cap of 20MB, an amount that provides just 1-2 hours of web browsing a month.
Relevance – Many people are not online because they are either unaware of the internet or because there is limited relevant content in their primary language. To provide relevant content to 80% of the world would require sufficient content in at least 92 languages.
So while many people on the planet can technically afford some sort of access, the infrastructure remains sub-par or non-existent. And tech companies need to do their part to bring about access to services in more languages.
The report also emphasizes a well-known fact: mobile devices are driving general internet adoption as they are far less costly than PCs. Location, income, and gender are the “three key factors affecting one’s likelihood to be connected”. Citing research from Intel and Dalberg, it states that there is a huge gap in connectivity between genders: “The gap is as high as 45% in some developing regions like sub-Saharan Africa, 35% in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and 30% in parts of Europe and Central Asia.”
All of these elements, Facebook says, need to be addressed not just by tech giants aiming to connect the rest of the world, but by global organizations and NGOs. Getting the next billion people online is a tall order — but not out of the realm of possibility.