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2.7bn people still shut off from online world, says ITU

Houlin Zhao ITU.jpg

The price of internet access is going down, but 2.7 billion people – roughly one-third of the global population – remain unconnected to the internet.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency, says the global median price of mobile-broadband services dropped from 1.9% to 1.5% of average gross national income (GNI) per capita.

But, while 75% of young people worldwide are now able to use the internet, only 63% of women – compared to 69% of men – are using the internet in 2022.

The numbers come from the ITU’s 2022 edition of Facts and Figures, an annual worldwide overview on the state of digital connectivity.

The internet “has become more affordable in all regions of the world and among all income groups”, says the ITU, which dates back to the International Telegraph Union, established in 1865, becoming a UN agency in 1947.

ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao (pictured), who steps down at the end of 2022 after two four-year terms of office, said: “The internet may be more affordable overall, but for billions of people around the world, it is just as out of reach as ever. We need to keep internet affordability moving in the right direction even as the global downturn cuts deeper into the economic prospects of many countries.”

For the average consumer in most low-income economies, a basic mobile data plan costs on average 9% of average income, says the ITU report.

“This represents a slight decrease from 2021, but it remains many times greater than the cost of similar services in higher-income countries,” the report adds. “The result is that those who can least afford broadband service – and that could benefit the most from it – are paying the highest amounts in relative terms.”

Zhao’s successor, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who takes over in January, said the “report reveals that the internet has become more affordable globally, but still prohibitively high for too many to access it meaningfully. The gender digital divide persists. Yet, young people are a driving force of connectivity.”

She added: “We need to do everything possible to prevent digital from becoming the new face of inequality.”

Cost remains a major obstacle to internet access, especially in low-income economies, said the ITU. “The current global economic situation – with high inflation, rising interest rates, and deep uncertainty – could add to the challenge of extending internet reach in lower-income areas.”

Bogdan-Martin, an American who was elected by 139–25 votes to her new role, said: “Access to the internet is increasing, but not as quickly and evenly across the world as it needs to. Too many people still live in digital darkness. Our global challenge is to commit the resources that would allow everyone to benefit in a meaningful way from being connected.”