The state of internet connectivity around the world

The internet is becoming more accessible.

The price of mobile service is falling, with developing countries seeing costs fall by between 15% and 25% from 2013 to 2014. But service still remains more expensive for developing and least developed countries when looking at the cost as a percentage of their gross national incomes (GNI) per capita, a metric the ITU uses to make a more apples-to-apples comparison across countries with vastly different economies.

This week, the International Telecommunication Union, an arm of the United Nations, released a report on global connectivity. It estimates that 3.2 billion people—43.4% of the world’s population—will use the internet in 2015, but that figure falls to 9.5% for the least developed countries, which the UN defines as the “poorest and weakest segment of the international community.” (These countries represent about 880 million people—about 12% of the world’s population—but make up less than 2% of the global gross domestic product.)

Around the world, there remains a large gender gap in who uses the internet. In the least developed countries, only 8% of females will have used the internet in 2015 compared with 11.3% of males. Those statistics echo a September UN report that found that women in low- and middle-income countries are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone, helping perpetuate inequality between men and women. The ITU has set a goal to achieve gender equality among internet users by 2020.

The ITU has set a goal for broadband services to cost no more than 5% of average monthly incomes in developing countries by 2020. This will be an especially challenging problem to fix, given the infrastructure involved to expand fixed broadband access. Even Facebook and Google—two tech giants that are working to bring connectivity to as much of the world as they can—aren’t looking at laying down cables. They instead have ambitious plans to bring fast internet via the air

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