Digital. How many people have a phone and internet access?

Internet access is becoming “more affordable in all regions of the world and for all population groups, regardless of income level,” according to an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) report released Wednesday. As proof, in 2022, three-quarters of people aged 10 and over have a mobile phone. This device is now the most common way to access the Internet.

However, not all people are in the same boat: according to figures collected by the specialized agency of the United Nations, 95% of people in rich countries have a mobile phone while, in less privileged countries, the penetration rate drops to 49 %. After all, not all laptop owners have access to the Internet, especially in low-income countries, where broadband is often still very expensive.

Today, about 5.3 billion people, or 66% of the world’s population, use the Internet. 2.7 billion people, or almost a third of the world’s population, are still deprived of this international network. That’s an improvement on 2021, but “a lot of people are still living in digital darkness,” laments Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who will become the first woman to lead the ITU in early 2023.

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The packages are still very expensive

To measure Internet access, the UN agency analyzed the average price of mobile broadband services, which are often less expensive than landline access. These average prices have fallen from 1.9% of gross national income per capita to 1.5% in 2022.

But the cost is still too high for a large number of consumers in low-income countries where a mobile data plan costs 9% of the average income. That’s far more than the percentage paid in rich countries for similar services, according to the ITU, which has called on all countries to provide affordable broadband access, which it defines as costing less than 2 % of national income, monthly gross per capita.

A disconnection due to the current crisis?

Even if “internet access is increasing”, the ITU notes “a certain setback compared to the considerable progress that was made in terms of connectivity at the beginning of the pandemic”. Covid-19 and its restrictions have indeed forced hundreds of millions of people to work or study online.

Women suffer more from the digital divide

Women represent nearly half of the world’s population, but “they are 259 million less likely than men to have access to the Internet,” the ITU states in its report. Only 63% of women go online compared to 69% of men.

According to the institution, “the gap between men and women is even more worrying in low-income countries”: only 21% of women are tied there, compared to 32% of men. “A figure that has not improved since 2019,” notes the ITU.

ITU Chief Economist Thierry Geiger points out that rising prices of basic necessities could also force many people to go offline. Although Internet access is increasingly seen as an essential service, “food still dominates,” he said. We will have to wait until next year to see the possible effects of the current crisis.

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