UN laments slow Internet growth, says most people still offline

INTERNET• Hinges challenges on cost of extending last-mile infrastructure

THE United Nations Broadband Commission, an arm of the United Nations has said that growth in the number of people with access to the Internet is slowing, and that more than half the world’s population is still offline.

According to UN, Internet access in rich economies is reaching saturation levels but 90 per cent of people in the 48 poorest countries have none.

The body said the access growth rate is expected to slow to 8.1 per cent this year, down from 8.6 per cent in 2014. Until 2012, growth rates had been in double digits for years.“We have reached a transition point in the growth of the Internet,” the UN report said.

The commission, set up in 2010 by the International Telecommunication Union and UNESCO, the U.N. scientific and cultural agency, said the milestone of four billion Internet users was unlikely to be passed before 2020.

It said growth in Facebook subscribers was outpacing growth in the Internet.“Over half the world’s population – some 57 per cent, or more than four billion people – still do not use the Internet regularly or actively,” the report said.

It blamed the cost of extending last-mile infrastructure to rural and remote customers, and a sharp slowdown in the growth of mobile cellular subscriptions globally.

By the end of this year, 3.2 billion people will have some form of regular access to the Internet, up from 2.9 billion in 2014. That is 43.4 per cent of the world’s population, still far short of a UN target of 60 per cent by 2020.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) currently puts Internet subscribers in the country at 93 million, which is still the highest in Africa.

The UN report further disclosed that women in poorer countries were particularly disadvantaged. In the developing world, 25 per cent fewer women than men had Internet access, a number that rises to 50 per cent in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Only about five per cent of the world’s estimated 7,100 languages were represented on the Internet, the report said. Many Internet users could not understand Latin script, so even reading domain names was a challenge, it added.

Already, in a report titled: ‘Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women and Girls in the Information Society’, by the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender of the ITU, it disclosed that globally, there are an estimated 200 million fewer women than men online, with a projection that this gap could grow to 350 million within the next three years, if remedial action is not taken.

The report observed that around the world, women are coming online later and more slowly than men. It noted that of the world’s 2.8 billion Internet users, 1.3 billion are women, compared with 1.5 billion men.

ITU noted that while the gap between male and female users is relatively small in countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it is much wider in the developing world.

According to the study, worldwide, women are on average 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone — representing a mobile gender gap of 300 million women, equating to $13 billion in potential missed revenue for the mobile industry.

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