annual report measuring digital development, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), says an estimated 5.3 billion people of the earth's 8 billion are using the Internet in 2022, or roughly 66 percent of the world's populations. However, the gender digital divide continues to exist as only 63 percent of women were using the Internet in 2022 compared to 69 percent of men. "This means there are 259 million more men than women using the Internet in 2022," the report notes.
The ITU also finds that youth aged 15-24 years are the driving force of connectivity, with 75 percent of young people worldwide now able to use the Internet. The report encouragingly points out: "There are signs that the generational gap is shrinking. In 2020, the difference between the penetration rate among young people (71 percent) and the rest of the population (57 percent) was 14 percentage points."
What is more, "In all regions of the world, people aged between 15 and 24 are more connected than people who are older or younger than that. Universality, defined as more than 95 percent Internet use, has already been reached in this age group in high-income and upper-middle-income economies. The biggest gap in relative terms is observed in low-income economies, where 39 percent of young people use the Internet, compared with only 23 percent for the rest of the population."
With respect to mobile subscriptions, the report says almost three-quarters of the global population aged 10 and over now own a mobile phone. "Internet use is becoming as ubiquitous as mobile phones. Accordingly, the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions is rapidly approaching the level of mobile-cellular subscriptions, which is plateauing."
Despite the ubiquitousness of mobile phone use, "low levels of ICT skills hamper progress to universal and meaningful connectivity," the report importantly notes. "A low level of ICT skills is one of the main barriers to achieving universal and meaningful connectivity."
As for the affordability of ICT services, the report finds that global median price of mobile-broadband services dropped from 1.9 percent to 1.5 percent of average gross national income (GNI) per capita. However, the report explains that "the lack of affordability continues to be a key barrier to Internet access particularly in low-income economies, even though this country group witnessed a nearly two-percentage-point drop in the income-adjusted price of mobile broadband services." Furthermore, "A wide gap remains between high-income economies and the rest of the world. Compared to median prices that are paid in high-income economies, the basket costs nearly 10 times as much in lower-middle-income economies and nearly 30 times as much as in low-income economies, after adjusting for differences in GNI per capita."
I appreciate how ITU's annual Facts and Figures report offers an independent and rigorously researched snapshot of the state of digital connectivity worldwide. As Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who was elected as ITU's Secretary-General subsequently after the report's publication, wrote: The report "serves as a key element in global efforts to 'connect the world' and bring universal meaningful connectivity to everyone, everywhere. Accurate data are essential: to be sure our policies and projects are having a real impact on bridging the digital divide, we need to constantly track core connectivity indicators, and drill down into the data to reveal both unexpected sticking points, and surprising successes." She adds that "ITU data are relied upon, not just by the broader UN system, but by governments, the global technology sector, development financing institutions, and the many grassroots organizations working to promote digital inclusion within their communities."
What recommendations do you have for increasing digital inclusion and promoting online opportunities?
Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.