Who are the haves and have nots of the internet?

Global network satellite edge

The UN has released its latest report regarding the presence and influence of the internet around the world, and some of the statistics are a little bit surprising.

Let’s start at the top of the list with internet penetration. Western Europe tops the charts with 79.6%, then comes CIS with 67.7% and the Americas with 65.9%. These three regions sit above the world average, which is perhaps unsurprising, with Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa sitting below at 43.9%, 43.7% and 21.8%.

Aside from the massive gulf between the have’s at the top and the have not’s at the bottom, another interesting area is the America’s; 65.9% is not a high number. I mean this is region which contains the USA, the land of the free and the home of the brave. Considering the influence it has at the business end of the technology world, it is surprising. We always knew there was a digital divide in the states, the rural broadband movements have brought attention to this, but this is quite a shortfall.

Looking more specifically at the unconnected statistics, the US also features here, but this is as a total figure as opposed to percentage of population; its slightly misleading. In terms of the number of unconnected individuals, India hits the top of the list with 660.19 million, China is in second with 362.28 million and Nigeria is in third with 101.68 million.

“If we don’t engage the whole world, we are at risk of a two-tiered internet system, where those with fast services reap the benefits in terms of education, opportunity and investment, while those without broadband are left further behind,” said Marc Agnew, VP of ViaSat Europe.

“As anyone who has lived through the rise of the internet will explain, there’s a big difference between being able to send an email over a dial-up connection, and being able to take advantage of all the services a truly high-speed broadband connection offers. For instance, Venezuela, with an average internet connection speed of 1.8mbps in 2016, will have a very different experience to South Korea, with an average speed of over 26mbps.”

The difference between having the internet and not having it will soon become apparent. Right now, it is not going to be a crippling factor; yes it will make a difference but it will not define an economy. If we’re being completely honest, looking at the state of play, we haven’t nailed this digital economy thing yet, but that will only take time. We’ll get there eventually.

The majority of people would have already known about the digital divide, but it is always worth reminding ourselves about the challenge ahead. You never know, maybe projects like Facebook’s Aquila will turn out to be more than just a PR stunt.

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