Despite the numerous ways of providing an internet connection, coverage remains limited for many.
By the end of 2015, about 3.2 billion people were online, an increase from 3 billion in the previous year (2014), the latest ‘State of Connectivity 2015: A Report on Global Internet Access,’ says.
The second annual study by Facebook investigates the current state of global internet connectivity, changes that have taken place since 2014 and how these identified data can be used to generate new insights.
“At the end of 2014, there were 2.9 billion internet users globally. By the end of 2015, this figure was predicted to have reached 3.2 billion, 43% of the world’s population,” read part of the report.
The positivity of the statistics shows that the world is narrowing the connectivity gap, but there are still more than 4.1 billion people left without an internet connection at all. The study indicates the growth is relatively credited to more affordable data and rising global incomes in 2014. But more has to be done in order to connect the world to the rest of the people and people to the world.
The 2014 United Nations (UN) General Assembly and the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Connect 2020 Agenda calls for developing nations to work toward 50% internet access and reduce the cost and discrimination which is keeping many from being online by 2020. Working with four goals which include: growth; inclusiveness; sustainability and innovation and partnership ITU is committed to connecting people globally by that period.
The importance of internet cannot be underestimated. According to the report, “the internet is a catalyst for broader social and economic advances through access to education, economic and employment opportunities, and even healthcare. It is a critical tool for development and should be available to everyone,” the report says acknowledging the importance of connectivity and the need to bring more people online faster as urged by ITU.
Even with these strategies in place, ITU estimates that only about 2 billion people will have been reached by 2020 if there is no well-laid out and coordinated approach to the issue.
Facebook identifies four key barriers to internet access which should be addressed urgently in order to fulfill ITU’s ambitious target. It also outlines the strategies through which these can be achieved.
Internet connectivity is highly dependent on the infrastructure available to enable access with ease. By the end of 2015, at least, 1.6. billion people lived in areas uncovered by 3G and 4G broadband networks.
These estimates are concentrated in the rural areas where over 70% of people do not have mobile broadband coverage. Despite the numerous ways of providing an internet connection, coverage remains limited for many. The ultimate goal to achieve ITU’s Connect 2020 Agenda requires extensive network roll-out.
The question of availability is majorly an economic reason especially on the part of network service providers. The fact that people in the remote and rural areas are sparsely populated makes deployment of the network an expensive venture. The infrastructure to avail this service is expensive requiring operators to invest quality resources up-front whereas there are fewer potential customers within the coverage area of a new mobile site.
The study also argues that people in rural areas tend to have lower incomes, limited educational opportunities, and less developed digital skills which pose as a challenge. Additionally, people in these areas are less aware of the benefits of the internet and how it can ease their lives, and face greater cultural and linguistic barriers to internet adoption. All these factors put together lead to lower demand and hence increased the risk for operators considering whether to invest in infrastructure.
Inadequate and lack of power are also an infrastructure challenge in areas where residents are off the grid. The coming in of solar and diesel generators could help ease these challenge especially if the alternative sources of energy are made more affordable than currently is.
Even in places where the internet has penetrated, income still remains a key barrier for many to access the internet. The price of data in addition to the cost of owning a device, charger, and other accessories is part of the reason why people are still offline.
Africa still lags behind in the digital divide compared to other continents due to the cost of data. The facebook report estimates that “the cost of a 500 MB/month data plan remains financially inaccessible for 2 billion people. To developed nations, who consume almost three times as much on average, 500 MB/month might seem insufficient. That would account for only 17 websites or 8 minutes of video per day.”
However, competition among mobile operators in developing countries is playing a great role in reducing the cost of data bundles among the different operators.
In Kenya, the report argues that the three major operators have brought the cost of the internet down compared to Ethiopia which only has one player. The monopoly in Ethiopia has resulted to 500MB of data costing four times more than in Kenya making it less affordable.
In developed countries, “a monthly allowance of 500MB of mobile data is affordable for over 90% of people, but only one-third of those in developing markets. Even basic data packages that offer 100MB of data use per month are affordable for just over half of the people in developing economies.”
Rising incomes witnessed in the recent past has continued to significantly and rapidly progress internet penetration. The penetration has also been made much easier by the falling prices of internet due to improved infrastructure.
The report calls the public sector to further develop innovations which will have a direct impact on the affordability of internet through appropriate taxation, to minimize the affordability impact of taxes and encourage greater adoption.
Packaging data to appeal to different economic groups in the society will also enhance the uptake and usage of internet in developing nations. The report advocates for extending affordability by enabling consumers to share service and device cost as well as pool skills to help each other get online. Although this kind of model does not give the same level of empowerment as would personal connection, it offers people opportunity to experience internet services and gain appreciation of the technology.
The adoption and usage of internet depend on the relevance placed on it by individuals or a group of people within a society.
For some people, the internet means access to news, paying bills, gaming, messaging and communication, e-commerce, business, health among other things.
People who have not placed any significant relevance to internet tend not to have any need for such luxury that is slowly becoming a need.
The usefulness of internet can best be understood by people if only they get to use and appreciate its effectiveness and efficiency. For example, if a relative uses the internet to video call and keep in touch with family members back at home while they are abroad for work or studies, makes people (back at home) to relate and best understand the relevance of online services and content.
Localizing internet language to suit the needs of a specific society makes it easier for people to identify with it. It is in this regard that Apple’s and Google’s App stores are available in the world in 155 and 136 countries respectively in a variety of languages.
The world has over 7,000 spoken languages. In order to reach 98% of the world’s population, it is estimated that the internet would need to accommodate 800 languages. When Facebook introduced Swahili platform in Tanzania where 98% of the population speak the language, the number of users increased significantly. This shows that if internet accommodated local languages, it is set to grow not only wider but faster too.
When content is created in a language that most appeals to the residents, they are more likely to find it relevant to them, thus increasing its usage.
The readiness of an audience in using the internet heavily depends on the skills to find and use it as well as the ability to use an internet-enabled gadget. Apart from skills, people must be aware and understand the benefits of accessing and using the internet. People also have to embrace the positive outlook of the internet in order to fully understand it.
What is key in the preparedness to adopt the internet is education. Of 11 countries surveyed by Facebook, over two-thirds of those currently offline did not know what the internet is. In Nigeria, 75% of the unconnected had never heard of the word 'internet.'
The study further argues that those who are more aware of internet are more likely able to use a computer than those who did not.
“The majority of unconnected people who do not use a mobile phone have little or no experience with telecommunications, computers, or even electronic devices. Surveys conducted in sub-Saharan Africa show that the majority of internet users are familiar with computers (and probably mobile phones), whilst people who do not use the internet are not,” the report argues.
Unequal distribution of education in some parts of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, makes it difficult for women to access and use the internet compared to men.
Globally, 63% of illiterate adults are female. This accounts for fewer women being employed and earning an income that can allow them to own gadgets that give them access to the internet.
To bridge the gap, there is need for concerted efforts to build capacity and create outreach programs to improve awareness.
Although there has been increased internet connectivity in the world over the years, in order for the world to achieve the set goals, all the barriers need to be addressed. This calls for coordinated efforts from all the relevant stakeholders including governments, operators, technology companies, international organizations, academia, content developers, media among others. Continuous review and sharing of best practices will bring the world even closer to people through a single click.
Header image Credit: indicative.ca
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