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2.9 billion people have never used internet: UN

Poverty, illiteracy, limited electricity access and a lack of digital skills continued to hinder “digitally excluded” communities, ITU noted.

• December 2, 2021
A digital photo used to illustrate the internet [Photo credit: Digital Y]

Some 2.9 billion people have never used the internet globally, and 96 per cent live in developing countries, making the world’s poorest left far behind, a new UN report has found.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the estimated number of people who have gone online in 2021 actually went up, to 4.9 billion, partially because of a “COVID connectivity boost.”

ITU said people’s ability to connect remained unequal – as many hundreds of millions might only go online infrequently, using shared devices or facing connection speeds that hamper their internet use.

“While almost two-thirds of the world’s population is now online, there is a lot more to do to get everyone connected to the Internet,” Houlin Zhao, ITU secretary-general, said. “ITU will work with all parties to make sure that the building blocks are in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion. We are determined to ensure no one will be left behind.”

The UN agency’s report found that the unusually sharp rise in the number of people online suggests that measures taken during the pandemic contributed to the “COVID connectivity boost.”

An estimated 782 million additional people went online since 2019, an increase of 17 per cent due to measures such as lockdowns, school closures, and the need to access services like remote banking.

According to the document, users globally grew by more than 10 per cent in the first year of the COVID crisis, which was the largest annual increase in a decade. But it pointed out that growth has been uneven.

Internet access is often unaffordable in poorer nations, and almost three-quarters of people have never been online in the 46 least-developed countries.

Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU, said, “The internet divide runs deep between developed and developing countries. Only a third of the population in Africa is using the internet.”

The report found that younger people, men and urban dwellers are more likely to use the internet than older adults, women, and rural areas, with the gender gap more pronounced in developing nations.

Poverty, illiteracy, limited electricity access and a lack of digital skills continued to hinder “digitally excluded” communities, ITU noted. 


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