By Robert Pepper, Head of Global Connectivity Policy and Planning, and Molly Jackman, Public Policy Research Manager
Connectivity gives people voice, and helps them find and share knowledge, strengthen their economies, and improve their communities. Bringing people online can offer life-changing opportunities, but there are still approximately 3.8 billion people without internet access. At Facebook, we’re working to change that.
For the second year in a row, Facebook commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to create a comprehensive Inclusive Internet Index. This year’s index covers 91% of the world’s population and an expanded data set of 86 countries, up from 75 countries in 2017. The index assesses a country’s internet inclusion across four categories: availability, affordability, relevance, and readiness. This captures the availability and quality of internet services, as well as ways in which people use the internet for personal, social, and economic purposes. In addition, this year’s index is published alongside a new global Value of the Internet Survey, which polled 4,267 respondents from 85 countries to gauge perceptions on how internet use impacts people’s lives.
The first index gave us valuable insights to help address the barriers to global connectivity. This year’s index shows us that there is cause for optimism: Global connectivity has increased 8.3%, and more people are connected than ever before. While this progress is encouraging, we are still far from achieving full internet inclusivity.
This year’s index also finds:
- Fast growth of connectivity in low-income countries: Emerging markets, especially in Africa, experienced the fastest and greatest progress over the last year. While connectivity worldwide grew 8.3%, there was a 65.1% increase in low-income countries. The proportion of households with internet access in low-income countries grew from 8% to 13.2% (a 65.1% improvement), with the largest year-on-year increases in Rwanda (490%), Nepal (138%), and Tanzania (87.8%).
- Mobile internet services are increasingly vital in many low-income countries: In some countries, fixed-line internet access is too expensive or inaccessible — that’s why mobile services are critical. The index reveals that coverage of 4G networking services grew significantly as networks in low-income countries are being upgraded. In fact, the average 4G coverage rate for low-income countries increased year-over-year from 9.1% to 17.3%, with particularly rapid expansion in Guatemala (3,935%), Indonesia (658.8%), Thailand (366.7%), Zambia (330.6%), and China (244%).
- The cost of accessing the internet is falling: The cost of mobile broadband data plans in lower-income countries decreased about 17.3% from last year, with Argentina (-89.2%), El Salvador (-76.5%), Tanzania (-69.2%), and Ethiopia (-60.9%) experiencing the steepest relative cost declines. Overall, however, people are still devoting too much of their earnings on internet access relative to their income level. In too many low-income countries, it is still not as affordable as the UN 2025 target of less than 2% of GNI per capita.
- There is still much work to be done to close the gender gap: Across the indexed countries, on average, men are 33.5% more likely to have internet access than women. The gap is even larger in low-income countries, which have an average gender access gap of 80.2% compared with 3.7% among high-income countries. This is a sobering finding, but there is evidence to be optimistic. Governments have shown the benefits of setting gender-specific targets in national digital plans, embedding internet access in wider gender equality plans, targeting women in ICT skills training programs, and increasing the attractiveness of entering ICT professions for women. The study found that the UK, Namibia, and Ireland, followed by Austria, Chile, and South Africa, are among the top e-inclusion performers of the year, all with female digital skills training plans.
- The internet is empowering, especially to citizens in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa: 67% of survey respondents believe that access to the internet is a human right. Not only do people say that the internet helped them become more confident to express themselves, but the majority of respondents also say that the internet has helped them become more independent and economically empowered. If the ability to use and benefit from the internet is unevenly distributed, it could serve to deepen inequality.
- Privacy and security are top-of-mind: People want confidence that their activity online is private. The data show that concerns about security and privacy may limit people’s use of the internet – for example, when it comes to making purchases online, only 62.1% of survey respondents feel that making purchases online is safe and secure.
Closing the remaining gaps in internet inclusion will require collaboration among all players. Governments can help on the supply side, enabling new technologies and networks, and on the demand side, helping foster and develop e-government, public health, and education applications. Academics, technologists, civil society, and private companies can continue to extend the internet’s infrastructure and invent new technologies and applications that increase access to connectivity and amplify its relevance.
At Facebook, our efforts are focused on expanding and improving connectivity through a number of initiatives, partnerships, and technologies. We know there’s no single technology or solution that will get the job done, which is why we’re focused on a building-block approach — developing a range of next-generation technologies and programs that can help bring the cost of connectivity down to reach the unconnected, and increase capacity and performance for everyone else.
There is still more to do. Identifying and understanding barriers to connectivity is essential to continued progress in bringing more people online, and we hope that researchers and policymakers can learn from this report. Connecting the world won’t happen overnight, but with continued research and collaboration between governments, policymakers, and businesses, we remain confident that we can continue our progress toward our shared goal of closing the digital divide and making the internet more inclusive.
The full Inclusive Internet Index can be accessed at http://theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com
You can read more about Facebook’s connectivity efforts and our announcements at Mobile World Congress here.