New data shows alarming slowdown in global internet access growth

19 Oct 2018

Image: © Rido/

A new report shows that internet access growth rates have considerably slowed in the last decade.

While many of us benefit from the opportunities offered by the digital world, new data shows that the knowledge and resources it brings are still a long way off for many areas around the world.

The Guardian obtained an unpublished report from the Web Foundation, which was founded by internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee.

The report analysed UN data and it shows that global internet access growth has dropped from 19pc in 2007 to less than 6pc in 2017. It also found that an estimated 3.8bn people around the world have no internet access.

Digital divide

Unsurprisingly, the digital divide affects those in isolated areas, the poor and women most heavily. In 2014, the UN predicted that half of the world would be online by 2017. The slowdown in growth means that milestone will not be achieved until May 2019.

This later deadline is only a few months before the UN Sustainable Development Goal of affordable internet access for everyone in the world by 2020. The UN measures being online as having used the internet from any device in any location at least once in the past three months.

Gender gap

Alarmingly, in poor urban areas, men can outnumber women on the internet by as much as two to one. If projected growth rates from the UN had remained the same, more than half-a-billion more people would be online by now.

Many of the offline communities are located in remote areas, making it a complex task for telecoms firms, not to mention costly. According to Nanjira Sambuli, lead of the Web Foundation’s efforts to promote equal internet access, economic and social inequalities can see women left offline.

She added that technology is “not a silver bullet that is going to solve inequalities that exist and have continued to exist because of real factors that need to be addressed”.

Tackling obstacles to internet access

According to the global league of internet access, fewer than 2pc of Somalians are regularly online. The most connected nations are generally small and include Luxembourg and Bahrain. Eritrea and Niger are among the least connected.

While the financial costs of implementing infrastructure are an obvious barrier, more needs to be done to tackle the other obstacles to digitisation, which include government reluctance and social mores.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects