4 Reasons 4 Billion People Are Still Offline

4 Reasons 4 Billion People Are Still Offline

The world took yet another small step towards becoming fully connected in 2015. An estimated 3.2 billion people are now online, up from 3 billion in 2014, according to a new report published by Facebook.

But this means that a further 4.1 billion people, over half of the world's population, are without any internet connection at all.

The ITU's Connect 2020 Agenda calls for at least 50% of developing nations' households to have internet access by 2020 and to reduce the cost and discrimination which is keeping many from being online.

In their study of global connectivity, Facebook identified four main barriers which continue to keep the ITU's ambitious plan out of reach, and highlights the ways we can overcome these challenges. As the report points out: "These barriers do not arise in isolation, nor can they be addressed in isolation. They function as a cluster, each one affecting the others."

Availability

This will depend on people's ability to access the web through a number of different means including wired, wireless or satellite connections. Despite the various ways of obtaining an internet connection, coverage remains limited for many.

Mobile network connections have aided in closing the availability gap. As much as 96% of the world's population does, in theory, have some access to a 2G network, but this technology will only cover basic data connectivity. At least 1.6 billion people have no access to 3G or 4G at all.

The costly alternative of satellite technology is also being replaced with more creative solutions including drones, balloons, low/medium earth orbit satellites and high-throughput geostationary satellites.

Affordability

The price of data along with the cost of owning a device, a charger and other accessories is part of what is keeping people offline.

Facebook's 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.

Facebook estimates that around 500 million more people were able to access the internet in 2015 due to the rise in global incomes along with the falling prices of availability.

Relevance

While those in developed countries often think of the internet as a time killer, many in developing nations fail to see the relevance of getting online. In order to make the web relevant to them, it would need to prove useful, relatable and accessible.

Language remains the most identifiable problem with internet relevance globally. Only 10 languages make up 89% of the internet, with 56% of it in English.

But there are over 7,000 languages spoken worldwide. It is estimated that to reach 98% of the worlds population, the internet would need to accommodate 800 languages.

Take, for example, Tanzania, where 98% of the population speaks Swahili. When Facebook introduced its platform in Swahili, the number of users in Tanzania increased significantly.

Language is only one way to create and encourage relevance. When a population is offered content that relates to them directly, usage increases.

Readiness

A challenge exists to ensure that people have the skills, understanding, and cultural and social acceptance of the internet.

The world's literacy rate, for example, will continue to hold back populations in India, Africa and the Middle East, regardless of their ability to access the internet.

Meanwhile, education as a whole remains a barrier. In a survey conducted by Facebook of 11 countries, 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.'

Familiarity with the devices used to access the web also remains a challenge. Those already using the internet were far more likely to know how to use a computer than those who did not.

There is also a sobering gender gap that exists online. In developing countries, the parity between male and female internet users can be startling. In India, women are between 60 and 70% less likely to use the internet, while in sub-Saharan Africa the gender gap can range from 45 to 70%.

Getting to 2020

If so many challenges are to be met in the next few years, it will require the efforts of private industry, governments, non-profits and citizen-led initiatives to achieve a common goal.

Through the sharing, application and review of best practices, it is possible to imagine a truly connected world.

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