Connectivity for All

Though the number of new Internet users has tripled over the last decade, four major barriers have caused the pace of expansion to slow considerably. Given the enormous economic benefits of connectivity, finding ways to provide Internet access for the world's remaining four billion people should be a high priority.

OXFORD Over the last decade, the number of new Internet users tripled. But, though a large majority of the world’s population remains offline, the pace of expansion has slowed sharply in recent years. Is the Internet revolution losing steam?

From 2005 to 2008, the number of Internet users increased at a compound annual rate of 15.1%, bringing the number of people online to some 2.7 billion. But, according to a new report by McKinsey & Company, the growth rate fell to 10.4% in 2010-2013. Given the enormous economic benefits of connectivity, finding ways to provide Internet access to the world’s remaining four billion people should be a high priority.

Of course, that is easier said than done. Around three-quarters of the unconnected – 3.4 billion people – live in just 20 countries. In 2012, about 64% lived in rural areas, compared with only 24% of Internet users, while about half live below their country’s poverty line and median income. Some 18% are older than 54, compared with about 7% of the online population, and roughly 28% are illiterate, whereas the literacy rate for Internet users is close to 100%. Finally, women comprise 52% of the offline population and only 42% of the online population.

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