You’ve heard it from us a hundred times before: internet access and use has the power to underpin global development, but achieving universal access requires smart, effective policy to connect the 4 billion people offline today. Developing and implementing this policy requires data to tell us where we stand now, what progress we’re making, and how we can most effectively push the needle toward universal access. Each year, we look forward to the publication of the ITU’s annual Measuring the Information Society Report for just this reason — it provides much needed benchmark data on the current state of ICT connectivity, access, and use around the globe.
The 2016 Measuring the Information Society (MIS) Report was launched just last week at the World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium (WTIS) in Gaborone, Botswana. The event, organised by the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) of the ITU, brought together hundreds of government ministers, policymakers, business leaders, statisticians, regulators, and researchers — including our own Research Manager Dhanaraj Thakur and Research Analyst Erica Penfold — to discuss and debate issues around ICT data, statistics, and policymaking.
The 2016 MIS Report looks at ICT growth across 175 countries worldwide, and highlights progress made — as well as continuing or emerging barriers to growth. This year’s report shows:
- A majority (53%) of the world’s population is still not online. The nearly 4 billion offline today are primarily female, less educated, and based in rural locations. Just 12.6% of people in the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) use the internet and Africa remains the continent with the lowest internet usage numbers, at just over 25%.
- Mobile data prices in the world’s LDCs have dropped significantly. LDCs saw a 20% fall in mobile-cellular prices — the biggest decrease in five years. The price drop is linked to the increasing availability of prepaid packages that bundle SMS and local calls.
- Affordability remains a significant barrier to access. The high price of mobile devices is particularly prominent, as well as a lack of perceived benefits to mobile phone ownership/use, and a lack of skills to use ICT effectively.
- Mobile broadband remains cheaper and more widely available than fixed-broadband, but mobile broadband services are only available in 38% of the LDCs. Fixed broadband prices have reduced, but still remain well out of reach for most.
At the event, Dhanaraj joined a panel assembled to launch and discuss the key findings from this year’s report, where he underscored the call for policymakers to address broader socio-economic inequalities and to help individuals develop the skills to access and use the internet to its full potential. With more than half the world’s population still offline — most of them women who are unable to afford a connection or lack the skills to use the web effectively — achieving full digital inclusion and wider global development goals will require focused efforts to overcome the barriers posed by inequality.
He also encouraged the ITU and its partners to start looking at the various ways in which data bundles are sold, instead of limiting assessment to 500MB or 1GB plans (as is does currently). Ultimately, an improved assessment of prices will enable us to better track progress toward ICT development goals, including A4AI’s proposed “1 for 2” affordability target — that is, 1GB of mobile data priced at less than 2% of average monthly income.