Internet growth slows; most people still offline: United Nations

22 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

4bn people lack internet access as global broadband grows slowly.

GENEVA: Growth in the number of people with access to the Internet is slowing, and more than half the world’s population is still offline, the United Nations Broadband Commission said. UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 22 (PNA/Xinhua) — Broadband Internet is failing to reach billions of people living in the developing world, including 90 percent of those living in the poorest nations, a new UN report said on Monday.

The commission, set up in 2010 by the International Telecommunication Union and UNESCO, the UN scientific and cultural agency, said the milestone of four billion Internet users was unlikely to be passed before 2020. “Over half the world’s population – some 57%, or more than 4 billion people – still do not use the Internet regularly or actively,” the report said. Fifty-seven percent of the world’s people remain offline and unable to take advantage of the enormous economic and social benefits the Internet can offer, revealed the State of Broadband report produced by the UN Broadband Commission.

The changes range from allowing community recreation centers to tap into a $2.3 billion program to pay for high-speed internet, to collecting more data on who is and who isn’t able to access broadband, to making it easier for service providers to lay cables beneath federal lands. It blamed the cost of extending last-mile infrastructure to rural and remote customers, and a sharp slowdown in the growth of mobile cellular subscriptions globally. The report, which came ahead of this week’s summit at UN Headquarters in New York at which world leaders will adopt the 2030 Agenda which contains the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), stressed that access to information and communication technology (ICT), particularly broadband Internet, had the potential to serve as a major accelerator of development. The actions come as a result of the Broadband Opportunity Council’s first report on expanding access to high-speed internet, which is being released today.

The council was formed by President Obama earlier this year, with the goal of ensuring that the federal government is doing everything within its current powers to encourage the deployment of broadband. The lowest levels of Internet access, according to the report are mostly found in sub-Saharan Africa, with internet available to less than 2% of the population in Guinea (1.7%), Somalia (1.6%), Burundi (1.4%), Timor Leste (1.1%) and Eritrea (1.0). That means there are no new funding programs here, but existing sources of funding are being opened up and barriers to deployment are being brought down.

New figures in the report confirmed that 3.2 billion people are now connected, up from 2.9 billion last year and equating to 43% of the global population. The situation in the 48 UN-designated Least Developed Countries is particularly critical, with over 90% of people without any kind of internet connectivity. The Republic of Korea continues to have the world’s highest household broadband penetration, with 98.5 percent of homes connected, followed by Qatar (98 percent) and Saudi Arabia (94 percent). It’s instructing all government agencies to amend relevant programs so that their resources can be used to make investments in the rollout of high-speed internet.

The council estimates that up to $10 billion worth of federal programs will be opened up through these actions, though of course only a portion of that will end up being used for broadband. The Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to begin requiring that most new residential projects it funds include plans for broadband support; units undergoing major renovation will be required to include broadband plans, too. The Asia-Pacific region, the report indicated now accounts for half of all active mobile broadband subscriptions, with Macao, China easily taking top place with 322 active mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 people or just over 3 subscriptions per inhabitant followed by second-ranked Singapore (156 subscriptions per 100 people) and Kuwait (140 subscriptions per 100 people).

To make sure that towns and cities are aware of these programs, the Commerce Department has committed to creating a “portal” that’ll round up the grants and programs available to assist with broadband deployment. Basically, a local organization should be able to visit its portal and find information on all federal funding as well as best practices for actually getting cables in the ground and usable. That includes encouraging communities to adopt “dig once” policies, which allow fiber or other cables to be laid when digging is done for unrelated projects. The intention is to reduce the time and cost on internet providers that want to deploy infrastructure on federal land, which may be a necessity in certain areas — particularly in locations where infrastructure is already lacking.

Though the administration has been working to see broadband adoption grow across the country, a quarter of all households remained without high-speed internet — now defined as 25Mbps — as of 2012. Released annually, it is the only report that features country-by-country rankings based on access and affordability for over 160 economies worldwide. The Broadband Commission comprises more than 50 leaders from across a range of government and industry sectors who are committed to actively assisting countries, UN experts and NGO teams to fully leverage the huge potential of ICTs to drive new national SDG strategies in key areas like education, healthcare and environmental management. Less than half of rural households have access to internet with broadband speeds; the figure is even lower on tribal lands. “The hard work that remains is reaching those communities where geography and economics work against deployment and reaching individuals who do not yet have the same opportunities to use broadband to meet personal and professional goals,” the council writes.

In total, the council’s report highlights 36 actions that federal agencies are committing to taking, with timelines set out for each of them that stretch across the next 18 months. The council intends to keep working with agencies to see that these actions are implemented, while continuing to look for ways that the government can increase broadband deployment.

Notably, some major actions can only be taken by the FCC — an independent agency — and therefore aren’t covered in this report; but the FCC has been taking its own actions too, including modernizing its Lifeline program to subsidize high-speed internet for low-income households.

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