Roughly 50% of the world is online, and until recently, that percentage was increasing rapidly. UN data regarding internet users, which the UN defines as those who have connected to the internet from any device at least once in the last three months, shows a steep decline in the growth rate since 2015. The report, to be prepared and published by The Web Foundation, indicates that early 21st century growth rates of nearly 20% annual increase in internet users has now fallen to roughly 5% annual increase in usership.
Whereas in many parts of the world connectivity may seem ubiquitous or even as though it is a public good, in developing regions billions of people still lack access to it. This is particularly worrisome as those without internet run the risk of falling further ‘behind’ those with access, widening inequalities. As is the case with many challenges, access to information is a key to overcoming poverty and empowering people to live better lives, and the internet is the ultimate key to information.
It is now important to ask why internet access growth has slowed and what we can do to increase it. What are the barriers? Who should take responsibility?
Furthermore, if parts of Africa, the Middle east, and Asia wish to skip the environmental and economic inefficiencies of 20th century analog industry and build digital and sustainable economies, connectivity will be paramount. How can we make sure the internet is open to those not yet using it? And what content or incentives can we the users provide to make the internet as inclusive as possible?