The cost of Internet services fell slightly around the world in 2022, according to Facts and figures, the annual global overview of the state of digital connectivity International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The Internet has become more affordable in all regions of the world and for all income groups, according to the assessment of ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICT ).
Cost, however, remains a major barrier to Internet access, especially in low-income economies. The current global economic situation with high inflation, rising interest rates and deep uncertainty could complicate the challenge of extending the reach of the Internet to low-income areas.
“The Internet may be more affordable overall, but for billions of people around the world it is still just as out of reach,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “We must keep internet affordability in the right direction even as the global recession takes a deeper toll on the economic outlook for many countries.”
The ITU Facts and Figures series presents estimates of key connectivity indicators for the world, regions and selected country groups. The assessment provides context on the evolution of the digital divide while examining progress towards closing it.
Earlier this year, the ITU reported that 2.7 billion people, or about a third of the world’s population, are still not connected to the internet. The figure was an improvement from 2021, but revealed a leveling off from the strong connectivity gains made during the onset and peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Access to the Internet is growing, but not as rapidly or uniformly around the world as it should be,” says Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau and Secretary-General-elect of the ITU. “Too many people still live in digital darkness. Our global challenge is to commit the resources that would enable everyone to meaningfully benefit from being connected.
Lower prices but still too high for too many people
According to Facts and Figures 2022, the global median price for mobile broadband services has fallen from 1.9% to 1.5% of average gross national income (GNI) per capita. Mobile broadband allows users to access the Internet from a smartphone. The affordability of this service has become a benchmark for global internet usage, as it provides relatively inexpensive access compared to fixed internet service.
Yet for the average consumer in most low-income economies, the cost of fixed or mobile broadband services remains too high.
A basic mobile data plan in these countries costs on average 9% of average income. This represents a slight decrease from 2021, but it is still several times higher than the cost of similar services in high-income countries. The result is that those who can least afford broadband service and who could benefit the most pay the highest amounts in relative terms.
Earlier this year, ITU and the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Technology announced ambitious goals for universal and meaningful digital connectivity to be achieved by 2030. Affordability, defined as the availability of broadband access at a price below 2% of monthly GNI per capita has been identified as a priority to ensure that everyone can fully benefit from connectivity.
Among the economies for which data is available for 2021 and 2022, more countries met the 2% affordability target in 2022 for different types of services.
A gender gap within the digital divide
Although women represent almost half of the world’s population, 259 million fewer women than men have access to the Internet. Only 63% of women use the internet in 2022 compared to 69% of men, according to Facts and figures 2022. The gender gap is even more concerning in low-income countries where 21% of women are online compared to 32% of men, a figure that has not improved since 2019.
Overall, the world has moved closer to gender parity over the past three years. Gender parity is defined as the percentage of female Internet users divided by the percentage of males is between 0.98 and 1.02. The gender parity score increased from 0.90 in 2019 to 0.92 in 2022.
Typically, regions with the highest internet use also have the highest gender parity scores. Conversely, many of the world’s least developed and vulnerable economies show low internet use, a low gender parity score, and limited progress towards gender parity over the past three years.
Cell phone ownership continues to rise
For the first time, ITU Facts and figures presents global and regional estimates of mobile phone ownership, revealing that almost three-quarters of the world’s population aged 10 and over own a mobile phone in 2022. Mobile phones are the most common gateway to mobile phone use. ‘Internet, the percentage of possession serving as an indicator of availability and access to the Internet.
Mobile phone ownership, however, still outweighs Internet use, especially in low-income countries. The reliance on mobile cellular service could be a further indication of cost impact, with overall prices for cellular-only service being cheaper than broadband.
Young Internet users cross a digital threshold
According Facts and figures 2022young people aged 15-24 are driving connectivity, with 75% of young people globally now able to use the internet, up from 72% in 2021. Usage in the rest of the population is estimated at 65% .
Universality, defined as more than 95% Internet use, has already been achieved among young people aged 15-24 in high- and upper-middle-income economies. Low-income economies have the largest generation gap, with 39% of young people using the internet, compared to just 23% of the rest of the population.
Among other discoveries in Facts and figures 2022, mobile-broadband subscriptions continue to grow rapidly and approach mobile-cellular subscription rates, which are leveling off. Fixed broadband subscriptions also continue to grow steadily, but low digital skills remain a barrier preventing individuals from fully realizing the benefits of being online, while limiting their ability to avoid its dangers.
Detailed analysis at global, regional and national levels for five price plans monitored by ITU, as well as the full 2022 national ICT price dataset, will be released in 2023.
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