2.9bn people still offline despite COVID-19 connectivity boost

Despite the increase in connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic, around 2.9 billion people still have never used the internet, and 96 percent of them live in developing countries, a new UN report has found.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the estimated number of people who have gone online this year actually went up, to 4.9 billion, partially because of a “COVID connectivity boost.”

This rise is due to a ‘Covid-19 connectivity boost’ due to the need to get information, buy goods or do online shopping or banking during pandemic-related lockdowns and school closures.

“ITU will work with all parties to make sure that the building blocks are in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion. We are determined to ensure no one will be left behind,” the union said.

“While almost two-thirds of the world’s population is now online, there is a lot more to do to get everyone connected to the Internet,” ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao said in a statement.

The lack of internet access is most prevalent in developing countries, where 96 percent of the world’s offline population live. In parallel, the digital divide also persists between rural and urban areas, with urban residents twice as likely to use the internet as people living in rural areas (76 percent compared to 39 percent).

An estimated 96 per cent of the 2.9 billion still offline, live-in developing countries. Also, among the 4.9 billion counted as ‘Internet users,’ many hundreds of millions may only get the chance to go online infrequently, via shared devices, or using connectivity speeds that markedly limit the usefulness of their connection.

“These statistics show great progress towards ITU’s mission to connect the world,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, which oversees ITU’s data and analytics work.

“But a vast ‘connectivity chasm’ remains in the LDCs, where almost three quarters of people have never connected to the Internet. Women in LDCs are particularly marginalized, with roughly four out of every five still offline,” he noted.