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46% of world's population still offline

By , Portals editor
Africa , 20 Apr 2020
Response to Covid-19 is being held back by a global failure to connect more people to the internet warns World Wide Web Foundation.
Response to Covid-19 is being held back by a global failure to connect more people to the internet warns World Wide Web Foundation.

The World Wide Web Foundation warns that the response to Covid-19 is being held back by a global failure to connect more people to the internet – with 46% of the world’s population still offline (and 28% of Africa’s population), according to ITU statistics.

The Web Foundation says that while the web has proved to be a lifeline during the pandemic, it warns that digital tools developed for contact tracing, along with other strategies to help flatten the curve using digital technology, will have limited effect in places where low numbers of people are connected to the internet.

Research by the Web Foundation projects that the world will miss two key UN targets designed to boost internet access.

The first - part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals - aims to reach ‘universal access’ in least developed countries by 2020. The second, set by the UN’s Broadband Commission, sets a 2025 target to get 75% of people globally and 35% of people in least-developed countries access to a broadband connection.

The Web Foundation’s analysis projects that by the end of this year, 57% of people globally and 23% in least developed countries will have internet access - falling far short of the 85% the organisation uses as a reference for ‘universal access’.

Further, the model predicts that internet access will rise only to 70% (global) and 31% (least developed) by 2025, around 5% short of the more conservative Broadband Commission target.

Adrian Lovett, Web Foundation President & CEO said: “The web is a critical lifeline. And yet billions are not connected as we fail to meet these targets. While this crisis affects everyone, those without the tools to protect themselves and their families are more vulnerable to the virus and its painful economic and social impacts. It’s clearer than ever that the web is a basic right, not a luxury. Efforts to tackle Covid-19 must include getting as many people connected to the internet as quickly as possible. This global pandemic has cruelly exposed the extent of the digital divide. Governments and companies must work urgently to accelerate progress to ensure that everyone, everywhere has the opportunity to get online.”

Situation in Africa

Most people offline today are in low and middle-income countries, according to the Web Foundation and the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI).

“Across Africa, just 28% of people are online and across the Asia & Pacific region, more than half of people are offline. As the number of Covid-19 cases across Africa and other lower-income regions climbs, the lack of critical resources, including connectivity, is likely to exacerbate an already desperate situation. Unless urgent action is taken, it will be decades before we reach the goal of universal internet access,” the organisations state.

The Web Foundation and A4AI have called for a more ambitious ‘meaningful connectivity’ target: regular access to a suitable device and enough data at sufficient speeds.

According to A4AI’s 2019 Affordability Index report, the cost of accessing 1GB of data in the region costs about 7.12% of the average monthly salary.

"Across Africa, the average cost for just 1GB data is 7.12% of the average monthly salary. In some countries, 1GB costs as much as 20% of the average salary - too expensive for all but the wealthiest few," says the report.

In October 2019 the World Bank Group released a report which stated that in order to achieve universal broadband access, countries in Africa would need to bring about 1.1 billion more people online.

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