World's Digital Divide

A close look at how the Internet is dividing our world

By Ken Aragaki | May 15, 2015

Source | International Telecommunication UnionUnited Nations Development ProgrammeThe World Bank

The Internet has become an essential part of our daily lives in the past 20 years. Nearly three billion people around the world now have access to the Internet, according to the United Nations’ latest report.

That means, however, 60% of the world’s population or about 4.2 billion people still remain unconnected.

In 2011, UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue declared the access to the Internet as “a basic human right” in his report to the UN Human Rights Council. “The Internet has become a key means,” La Rue wrote, “by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

The World Bank states that the Internet has brought positive impact on many aspects of economic development, in its annual World Development Report. The latest survey by Pew Research Center also shows a majority of people in emerging and developing countries contend that the Internet has positive influence on education.

The following data visualization project examines the relationship among the Internet accessibility, economy and education, and what the lack of access to the Internet may mean to those who are still unconnected in the world.

World Map by Internet Users (per 100 people)

Source: World Bank Infrastructure Indicators 2013
The digital divide between developed and developing countries persists today. Although the number of Internet users has been steadily increasing globally, only 20% of the population in Africa has access to the Internet. According to the Global Information Technology Report 2015 published by the World Economic Forum, “more than 4.2 billion people worldwide are likely to be still unconnected in 2017” because of structural barriers. Internet accessibility also varies within countries and often creates inequality in same society.

Internet Growth by Regions

Source: International Telecommunication Union

Internet and Economy

Source: The World Bank
According to the World Economic Forum’s report, the Internet’s impact on countries’ gross domestic product (GDP) has been “massive” in the last few decades. The impact, however, has so far benefited mainly developed countries and some urban areas in developing countries. Research conducted by the World Bank has found that economic growth increases with the number of high-speed Internet connections in developing countries.

Internet and Education

Source: UNDP Education Index
According to a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Internet access provides the potential to improve education “by increasing the efficiency of school systems, transforming traditional pedagogical models, extending learning opportunities beyond the limits of schools and classrooms, and expanding educational access for disadvantaged groups.” The United Nations also publishes the education index to measure level of education of each country every year.