The 2022 Global Connection Report, launched at the opening of the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, argues that while simple and affordable high-speed broadband access is almost ubiquitous in most rich countries, much of humanity remains excluded from the huge opportunities that the online experience opens up, hampering economic development and exacerbating global inequality.
While the number of Internet users has grown from a few million in the early 1990s to nearly five billion today, 2.9 billion people – about one-third of humanity – remain completely disconnected, and many hundreds of millions are struggling with expensive services and services. poor access. which do little to materially improve their lives.
The report calls for a “universal and meaningful connection” – defined as an opportunity for a safe, enjoyable, useful, productive and accessible online experience for all – at the heart of global development. It also assesses how close the world is to achieving this universal and meaningful connection, using the 2030 connection targets recently published by the ITU and the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Technology.
© UNICEF / Sherbruck
The main obstacle remains cost
The report confirms that the cost of subscribing to broadband and digital devices remains a major barrier to connectivity. Although Internet access is becoming cheaper in more affluent countries, Internet access remains prohibitively expensive in many low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Although the cost of broadband, especially mobile broadband, has declined significantly over the past decade, most low- and middle-income countries are still below the global affordability target of 2% or less of gross national income per capita. . Commission on Broadband for Sustainable Development.
“Equal access to digital technologies is not only a moral responsibility, it is important for global prosperity and sustainability,” said ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao. “We need to create the right conditions, including by promoting investment-friendly environments, to break cycles of alienation and ensure digital transformation for all.”
Although the surge in Internet access associated with Covid-19 has brought about 800 million people to the Internet, it has also dramatically increased the cost of digital exclusion, as people who are unable to connect are suddenly deprived of jobs, education and access to counseling. health. , financial services and much more.
“Universal and meaningful connectivity has become a global imperative of our decade,” said Dorin Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU’s Telecommunications Development Bureau, which prepared the report. “It is no longer just about uniting people – the catalytic role of communication will also be crucial to our success in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”
Still looking for “no link”
The Absent Middle report, published in 1984 by the Independent Commission for World Telecommunication Development, established by the ITU, identified a clear correlation between access to telecommunications and socio-economic development and called on all countries to make connection a priority.
Almost 40 years later, this “missing link” persists, but has turned into several digital gaps:
- Revenue share – the level of Internet use in low-income countries (22%) remains significantly lower than the level of Internet use in high-income countries, which are close to public use (91%)
- Urban-rural gap – the share of Internet users in cities is twice as high as in rural areas
- Gender gap – 62% of men worldwide use the Internet compared to 57% of women
- Generation gap – in all regions, young people aged 15-24 are more avid Internet users (72% online) than the rest of the population (57%)
- The gap in education. In almost every country with data, the level of Internet use is higher among those with more education, in many cases much higher.
The report notes that the biggest problems with offline connectivity are no longer related to network coverage, but rather to acceptance and use.
With barely 5% of the world’s population still physically out of range of the mobile broadband signal, the “coverage gap” is now blurred by the “usage gap”: about 32% of people are within range of the mobile broadband network and can theoretically connect always offline. Exorbitant costs, lack of access to the device, or lack of awareness, skills, or ability to search for useful content.
© UNICEF / UN051302 / Herwig
Although young people are enthusiastic about using online platforms and services in all parts of the world, large gaps between and within countries limit the ability of many young people to use the online world to improve their lives.
Only 40% of school-age children have access to the Internet at home, and many can only access online services through a mobile phone with limited functionality for activities such as e-learning.
As the digital environment becomes more complex, children and young people also need more skills to critically understand the digital world in which they are increasingly immersed. Digital access and skills are key to improving the perspectives of children and young people, and there is a growing awareness that all stakeholders need to work together to protect young people from online risks.