What’s Happening: For the 3.8 billion people around the world who still lack access to fast and reliable Internet service, they are being left behind. And according to the 2019 Inclusive Internet Index, progress on closing the digital divide has stalled.

Why it Matters:

Connectivity allows people to accomplish many things: talk to friends and family, learn new things, start businesses and find employment. For the billions of people Internet access, Facebook Connectivity has been working with network operators, equipment manufacturers and other partners to develop technologies and new initiatives to change that and provide Internet access globally.

Unfortunately, progress on the digital divide has dimmed. Last year’s Index concluded that while we were still far from achieving full Internet inclusivity, there was cause for optimism. This year’s report, however, revealed that progress has stalled and that the gap between the lowest income countries and all other has grown.

Digging Deeper:

Over the past three years, Facebook has commissioned the Economist Intelligence Unit to create a comprehensive Inclusive Internet Index. This Index assesses a country’s Internet inclusion across four categories:

  • Availability
  • Affordability
  • Relevance
  • Readiness

This year the Index covered 100 countries, representing 94% of the world’s population and 96% of global GDP. It is also accompanied by a survey that polled more than 5,000 respondents from 99 countries about how Internet use impacts people’s livelihood.

The overall gap between people with access to the Internet and those without has narrowed, attributed to progress on access, quality of coverage and affordability. However, the lowest income countries fell even farther behind, because they showed a much slower rate of improvement than other countries and from the previous year. Affordability is declining in many countries, particularly for low-income people who rely on mobile as their primary access to the Internet.

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There were some positive notes, however. Inclusion for women and people with disabilities showed improvement. Low- and lower-middle-income countries narrowed the gender gap in Internet access. The percentage of households globally that are connected to the Internet increased slightly. Mobile Internet services also showed improvement, though many low-income countries still showed slow progress on this front.

The Bottom Line:

Robert Pepper, Head of Global Connectivity Policy and Planning at Facebook, said that if this stalling of progress in closing the digital divide is simply a one-year blip, that’s bad enough — but if it is an indication of a trend, that would constitute an alarming shift.

“Because the Value of the Internet Survey found overwhelmingly positive benefits from using the Internet, particularly for improving livelihood, implications of the lowest income countries falling behind in terms of connectivity are particularly troubling,” Pepper wrote. “The lack of quality connectivity will further handicap low and lower middle-income countries’ ability to improve their economies relative to their neighbors.”

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