Committed to connecting the world

SDG

Digital inclusion of all

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Digital inclusion for all BCKGROUNDERWSIS Forum 2018 Photo Contest, Nagaland Tribe Connecting the World, India

Overview

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Challenges


​Substantial digital divides persist between countries. Indeed, nearly 87 per cent of people were using the Internet in developed countries in 2019, compared with 47 per cent in developing countries.

Digital divides are also evident within countries. Men, urban residents and young people are more likely to be online than women, rural dwellers and older people. The digital gender gap, when measured in terms of internet penetration, is relatively small in developed countries, more pronounced in developing countries and substantial in least developed countries.

Divides often stem from insufficient or slow connectivity, the cost of connection and a lack of relevant content in local languages. These barriers are therefore often related to age, gender, disability, socioeconomic status and geography.

Solutions


Efficient and affordable ICT infrastructure and services, combined with enabling policy and regulatory environments, allow businesses and governments to participate in the digital economy and countries to increase their overall economic well-being and competitiveness. Some 20 countries have made Internet access a fundamental or citizen right.

Mobile technology is rapidly migrating from 2G—second-generation of mobile technologies—to 3G to 4G. At the end of 2019, 93 per cent of the global population could access the Internet through a 3G or higher quality network. Developed countries' initial adoption of 5G networks is expected to exacerbate the current digital divide, as developing countries are likely to take longer to implement 5G networks. Developing countries can, however, use existing ecosystems and networks to provide universal and affordable access to ICTs. Mobile networks can be gradually upgraded once the challenges to develop a sustainable 5G system have been overcome.

Satellite services provide fixed and mobile services throughout the world. The global harmonization of mobile spectrum by ITU, together with the development of common international standards, has resulted in economies of scale leading to the reduction of prices of services and devices for both networks and end-users.

Mobile cellular networks now dominate the provision of basic telecommunication services. The number of active mobile-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants continues to grow strongly, growing nearly 13 per cent from 2018 to 2019. In developing countries, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions increased more than five-fold between 2005 and 2019, reaching 103.8 per 100 inhabitants in 2019. In least developed countries, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions grew twenty-fold since 2005, reaching an estimated 74.9 per 100 inhabitants in 2019.

Broadband Internet networks are vital national infrastructure. Mobile broadband services, which tend to be cheaper than fixed broadband services, have increased rapidly and provide the most common means of access to the Internet and online services. The number of active mobile-broadband subscriptions has increased to 83 per cent in 2019 . In developing countries, penetration rates of active mobile broadband subscriptions reached 75.2 per 100 inhabitants in 2019. In least developed countries, penetration rates went up from virtually zero in 2007 to 33.1 subscriptions per 100 in 2019.

To make the best use of the Internet, people require digital skills, presentation and teamwork skills, and foreign language skills.

ITU's contribution to including everyone, everywhere in a digital society


​ITU works in all regions of the world and develops tailored programmes to allow everyone to access and use the Internet, in particular by developing infrastructure for technologies and networks, and enhancing the regulatory and market environment.

The global “Connect 2030 Agenda for Global Telecommunication/ICT Development" to shape the future of the ICT sector was unanimously adopted at the ITU 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference. It sets out the shared vision, goals and targets that Member States have committed to achieve by 2030 in collaboration with all stakeholders across the ICT ecosystem. The agenda strives for four goals: 1) Growth – Enable and foster access to and increased use of telecommunications/ICT in support of the digital economy and society; 2) Inclusiveness – Bridge the digital divide and provide broadband access for all; 3) Sustainability – Manage emerging risks, challenges and opportunities resulting from the rapid growth of telecommunication/ICT; 4) Innovation – Enable innovation in telecommunications/ICT in support of the digital transformation of society –; and 5) Parnerships – Strengthen cooperation among the ITU membership and all other stakeholders in support of all ITU strategic goals. 

ITU collects ICT statistics for 200 economies and more than 100 indicators to better understand connectivity challenges and to benchmark and measure progress, including on broadband, Internet use and mobile cellular and mobile broadband networks. The Organization provides free access to a large amount of ICT statistics and recommendations as to what can be done to address challenges.

ITU raises awareness and assists countries in developing the policies, legislation, regulations and business practices that promote the digital inclusion of people with specific needs. These include indigenous peoples, people living in rural areas, people with disabilities, women and girls and youth and children.

To help bridge digital divides, ITU has also published a number of publications including Bridging the Digital Innovation DivideAchieving Universal and Affordable Internet in the Least Developed Countries, and many others.

Below are just a few examples showing how governments and the private sector can increase countries' and people's connectivity: 

Last update: November​ 2019​