Internet surge slows, leaving 2.7 billion people offline in 2022
Aim of getting the whole world connected remains elusive despite increased web use amid pandemic
An estimated 2.7 billion people – or one-third of the world’s population – remain unconnected to the Internet in 2022.
New data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, point to slower growth in the number of Internet users than at the height of COVID-19.
An estimated 5.3 billion people worldwide are now using the Internet. While continued growth is encouraging, the trend suggests that without increased infrastructure investment and a new impetus to foster digital skills, the chance of connecting everyone by 2030 looks increasingly slim.
“The COVID-19 pandemic gave us a big connectivity boost, but we need to keep the momentum going to ensure that everyone, everywhere can benefit from digital technologies and services,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “This can only be achieved with more investments in digital networks and technologies, implementing best practice regulation, and a continued focus on skills development as we move to a post-pandemic era.”
ITU’s new estimate of 2.7 billion people unconnected compares with an updated estimate of 3 billion people unconnected worldwide in 2021.
In 2019, prior to the COVID pandemic, an estimated 3.6 billion people, or nearly half the world’s population, were unconnected.
Amid concerns about slowing progress, ITU analysis indicates two major challenges in terms of advancing the world’s digital transformation:
- First, achieving universal connectivity – which in effect means bringing the remaining one-third of humanity online – will prove increasingly difficult. Most relatively easy-to-connect communities now have access to technologies like mobile broadband, spurring rapid and widespread uptake of digital services. Those still offline mostly live in remote, hard-to-reach areas.
- Second, the shift from basic to meaningful connectivity – by which people not only have ready access to the Internet but are able to use it regularly and effectively to improve their lives – is complex. Often, such challenges are overlooked or under-estimated. Barriers can include slow Internet speed; limited affordability of hardware and subscription packages; inadequate digital awareness and skills; and linguistic and literacy barriers, as well as issues like gender discrimination or the lack of reliable a power source. All these need to be addressed if everyone is to enjoy equitable access to online resources.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “While the rise in the number of people using the Internet worldwide is positive, we should not assume the robust growth witnessed in recent years will continue unabated. Those who are still not using the Internet will be the most difficult to bring online. They live in remote areas, often belong to disadvantaged groups, and in some cases are unfamiliar with what the Internet can offer. That is why our target needs to be not just universal connectivity, but universal meaningful connectivity.”
ITU defines ‘meaningful connectivity’ as a level of connectivity that allows users to have a safe, satisfying, enriching and productive online experience at an affordable cost.
Globally, the number of Internet users grew by 7 per cent and Internet penetration – the share of individuals using the Internet – grew by 6 per cent between 2021 and 2022.
However, growth is unevenly distributed across regions.
Areas with low Internet penetration have achieved the fastest growth over the past year – following a typical diffusion pattern for new and emerging technologies.
- Africa, the least connected of ITU’s six world regions, achieved 13 per cent year-on-year growth of Internet penetration. Today, 40 per cent of the population in Africa is online.
- The Arab States showed robust growth, with the Internet now reaching 70 per cent of the population.
- In Asia and the Pacific, Internet penetration grew from 61 per cent in 2021 to 64 per cent in 2022, relative to the region’s population.
- The Americas, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Europe each achieved 3 per cent growth, with more than 80 per cent of the population online in each region.
- Europe remains the most connected region globally, with 89 per cent of its population online.
Note to editors:
The updated estimate of 3 billion people unconnected worldwide in 2021 was revised based on new data and refined modelling techniques, from the initial estimate of 2.9 billion released in November 2021.
Additional estimates will be provided in ITU’s forthcoming Facts and Figures2022, set to be issued later this year. The report will feature 2022 estimates for key indicators including Internet use by gender, age groups and location, as well as mobile network coverage, mobile and fixed broadband subscriptions, and mobile phone ownership.
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The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 Member States and a membership of over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organizations. Established over 150 years ago, ITU is the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, Internet and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world. For more information, visit www.itu.int