The United Nations Organization ensures that more than a third of the population lives disconnected from the Internet , in fact, almost 3 billion people have never been online . In what places and why does this digital divide occur? Are there proposals to stop this disconnection in territories like these?
According to a new report by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) , 37% of the world’s population does not have access or has never used the Internet , which translates to about 2,900 million people.
In Spain, some 100,000 households with children cannot connect to the internet.
The study makes it clear who are the users who have little or no access to the Internet: almost all of the excluded people – 96% of the 2.9 billion – live in developing countries . Nearly three-quarters of people have never been online in the world’s 46 least developed states.
“There remains a large ‘connectivity gap’ in developing countries, where nearly three-quarters of people have never connected to the Internet,” ITU Director Doreen Bogdan-Martin said in a statement.
Rural areas also affect : 76% of people in urban areas around the world use the Internet, against 39% of the inhabitants of these areas. Young people, men and urban dwellers are more likely to use the Internet than older adults, women and rural dwellers, and the gender gap is most pronounced in developing countries.
Poverty, illiteracy, limited access to electricity and a lack of digital skills continued to challenge the “digitally excluded,” the ITU added.
The connection grows due to the health crisis, but in a precarious way
The research indicates an increase from 4,100 million in 2019 to 4,900 million connected users in 2021, something that is explained by the appearance of the health crisis and the strong boost in connectivity at this time. The confinements at home, teleworking , virtual classes or the increase in commerce and online procedures have made it easier for about 10% of the population to join the group of connected .
However, those ‘privileged’ from both developing countries and rural areas who can now access the Internet often do so with devices that they share with others and / or can only have low speed .
“ITU will work to make sure the building blocks are in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion. We are determined to ensure that no one is left behind, ”said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.
Are there solutions to close this digital divide?
There are many alternatives that are being put into practice to try to offer Internet connection in more depopulated, more rural or more inaccessible areas. And usually behind are large technology companies.
Some examples of the megacorporations that have bet on this business are Amazon and its constellation of satellites Kuiper Project ; Alphabet, the multinational that moves Google, and its Project Taara based on optical wireless communications ; Meta -the recently renamed Facebook-, which has an ambitious portfolio of ideas underway that includes submarine cables, an installer robot that moves along power lines and a wireless system that uses street furniture to give high speed; and finally, the satellite network already in operation Starlink , promoted by the giant of the aerospace industry SpaceX.
The problem, perhaps, is that all of them have seen it precisely as that: as a business from which to profit . So their initiatives can help little in the digital divide suffered by developing countries, largely fueled by the poverty of these places.
It is true that the projects of these companies help as far as infrastructure is concerned . For example, one of the most advanced is that of the tycoon Elon Musk. Starlink is the first operational Low Earth Orbit satellite network – LEO – to offer the Internet. Currently, SpaceX has placed in the skies, at an altitude of 550 kilometers, more than 1,800 of these devices to build its global coverage. And it aims to reach 42,000.
According to data provided by Musk’s own company , Starlink currently serves some 140,000 users in 20 countries , although they claim to have received more than 750,000 “requests / deposits” worldwide. It has been the silicon shortage related to the health crisis that has delayed production – especially of the antennas needed to make the connection work – and has affected its ability to fulfill those orders.
To access the WiFi connection, a fee must be paid.
Musk himself told the Mobile World Congress on June 29 that building his antennas costs more than $ 1,000 . While your goal is to reduce it to around $ 250 to $ 300.
The high production costs translate, as expected, into high subscription costs : the antennas that must be installed to enjoy the satellite service in its beta phase cost 449 euros, plus the 60 euros of shipping costs, to which must be added the 99 euros per month to enjoy Starlink .
How could such a high-cost technology be the solution to the lack of connection of the poorest territories in the world?
SpaceX itself has assured that it hopes to bring high-speed satellite Internet to many of the 2,900 million people on this planet who currently do not have access to the network or have very little access to it. Many citizens simply get by with mobile connections, an expensive solution on its own – a gigabit of data in sub-Saharan Africa costs 40% of the average monthly salary.
Sadly, it’s unclear if Starlink can really solve this big problem. At a conference in June, Musk said: “It really is intended for sparsely populated regions. In high-density areas, we will be able to serve a limited number of clients ”. And many rural citizens of the world will be excluded because they cannot afford it .