Revealing worrying gaps in connectivity and Internet access amid the pandemic, a new report from the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has shown that household Internet access in urban areas is twice as high as in rural areas.
Globally about 72 per cent of households in urban areas had access to the Internet at home in 2019, almost twice as much as in rural areas, nearly 38 per cent, said the report titled “Measuring Digital Development: Facts and figures 2020” on Monday.
Connectivity gaps in rural areas are particularly pronounced in least developed countries, where 17 per cent of the rural population live in areas with no mobile coverage at all, and 19 per cent of the rural population is covered by only a 2G network.
“How much longer can we tolerate the significant gap in household connectivity between urban and rural areas,” ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, said in a statement.
“In the age of COVID-19, where so many are working and studying from home, this edition of Measuring Digital Development: Facts and Figures sends the clear message that accelerating infrastructure roll-out is one of the most urgent and defining issues of our time.”
The research reveals that about a quarter of the population in least developed countries and landlocked developing countries, and about 15 per cent of the population in small island developing states do not have access to a mobile-broadband network.
Not surprisingly, Internet use is consistently more widespread among young people, irrespective of region or level of development, said the report.
Whereas just over half of the total global population is using the Internet, the proportion of Internet use increases to almost 70 per cent among young people aged 15-24 years.
In least developed countries, 38 per cent of youth are using the Internet, whereas the overall share of people using it, including youth, stands at 19 per cent.
In developed countries, virtually all young persons are using the Internet, while the highest youth/overall ratio is present in Asia and the Pacific.
The latest ITU data demonstrate that the roll-out of mobile-broadband networks has been slowing in 2020.
Between 2015 and 2020, 4G network coverage doubled globally and almost 85 per cent of the global population will be covered by a 4G network at the end of 2020.
Yet, annual growth has been slowing down gradually since 2017, and 2020 coverage is only 1.3 percentage points higher than 2019.
In addition to infrastructure roll-out, the digital gender divide, lack of digital skills and affordability continue to be major barriers to meaningful participation in a digital society, especially in the developing world where mobile telephony and Internet access remain too expensive for many, ITU said.