Internet users in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, others up by 13%
•ITU claims 2.7 billion people are still offline
An estimated 2.7 billion people or one-third of the world’s population remain unconnected to the Internet in 2022, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has stated.
New data from the ITU, the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies, point to slower growth in the number of Internet users than at the height of COVID-19.
According to it, an estimated 5.3 billion people worldwide are now using the Internet. While continued growth is encouraging, the trend suggests that without increased infrastructure investment and a new impetus to foster digital skills, the chance of connecting everyone by 2030 looks increasingly slim.
ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic gave us a big connectivity boost, but we need to keep the momentum going to ensure that everyone, everywhere can benefit from digital technologies and services. This can only be achieved with more investments in digital networks and technologies, implementing best practice regulation, and a continued focus on skills development as we move to a post-pandemic era.”
ITU observed that globally, the number of Internet users grew by seven per cent and Internet penetration, the share of individuals using the Internet, grew by six per cent between 2021 and 2022.
It, however, said growth is unevenly distributed across regions. It pointed out that areas with low Internet penetration have achieved the fastest growth over the past year – following a typical diffusion pattern for new and emerging technologies.
Africa, the least connected of ITU’s six-world regions, achieved 13 per cent year-on-year growth in Internet penetration, while 40 per cent of the population in Africa is online.
Indeed, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) puts Internet users in Nigeria at 151.4 million. Between 2019 and July 2022, the GSM operators added some 26 million new Internet users to the network. This is even as broadband phone
traction surged, hitting 44.5 per cent with some 84.9 million Nigerians enjoying the service.
According to ITU, the Arab States showed robust growth, with the Internet now reaching 70 per cent of the population.
In Asia and the Pacific, Internet penetration grew from 61 per cent in 2021 to 64 per cent in 2022, relative to the region’s population.
The Americas, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Europe each achieved three per cent growth, with more than 80 per cent of the population online in each region.
Europe remains the most connected region globally, with 89 per cent of its population online.
MEANWHILE, ITU’s new estimate of 2.7 billion people unconnected compares with an updated estimate of three billion people unconnected worldwide in 2021.
In 2019, prior to the COVID pandemic, an estimated 3.6 billion people, or nearly half the world’s population, were unconnected.
Amid concerns about slowing progress, ITU analysis indicates two major challenges in terms of advancing the world’s digital transformation. These are universal connectivity and meaningful connectivity.
ITU explained that achieving universal connectivity, which in effect means bringing the remaining one-third of humanity online, would prove increasingly difficult. It stressed that most relatively easy-to-connect communities now have access to technologies like mobile broadband, spurring rapid and widespread uptake of digital services. ITU said those still offline mostly live in remote, hard-to-reach areas.
In addition, ITU observed that the shift from basic to meaningful connectivity, by which people not only have ready access to the Internet but are able to use it regularly and effectively to improve their lives – is complex.
ITU said often, such challenges are overlooked or underestimated. Barriers can include slow Internet speed; limited affordability of hardware and subscription packages; inadequate digital awareness and skills; linguistic and literacy barriers, as well as issues like gender discrimination or the lack of reliable power source. “All these need to be addressed if everyone is to enjoy equitable access to online resources,” he stated.
Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, said: “While the rise in the number of people using the Internet worldwide is positive, we should not assume the robust growth witnessed in recent years will continue unabated. Those who are still not using the Internet will be the most difficult to bring online. They live in remote areas, often belong to disadvantaged groups, and in some cases are unfamiliar with what the Internet can offer. That is why our target needs to be not just universal connectivity, but universal meaningful connectivity.”
According to Bogdan-Martin, ITU defines ‘meaningful connectivity’ as a level of connectivity that allows users to have a safe, satisfying, enriching and productive online experience at an affordable cost.