Bringing half of the global population online

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In 2018, internet connectivity finally reached over half the world’s population. Yet some 3.4 billion people – about 50% of the world’s population – are still not online.

The impact.

The internet is a fundamental part of daily life that delivers immense economic and social benefits around the world. In 2018, internet connectivity finally reached over half the world’s population. Yet some 3.4 billion people – about 50% of the world’s population – are still not online.

Although much progress has been made in closing this digital divide, the challenge remains overwhelming, complex and multidimensional. It requires a collaborative, multistakeholder approach to overcome four key barriers to internet inclusion: infrastructure; affordability; skills, awareness and cultural acceptance; and relevant content.

The World Economic Forum launched Internet for All in 2016 to provide a platform where leaders from government, private-sector, international organizations, non-profit organizations, academia and civil society could come together and develop models of public-private collaboration for internet inclusion globally.

What's the challenge?

Significant barriers to the digital accessibility and connectivity still exist worldwide. Almost one-third of the world’s inhabitants cannot access 3G coverage. Meanwhile, 80% of online content is only available in one of 10 languages, excluding millions of people.

Importantly, the internet is also the fundamental enabler of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The industries enabled by the Fourth Industrial Revolution are likely to reshape the global economy, creating immense opportunities for those able to develop them.

The internet has become a pervasive and fundamental part of daily life. Its impact on both economic development and solving problems in areas such as health, education, basic financial services and agriculture is well documented. But, more than half of the world’s population is still not online.

Populations are not connected because they live in hard-to-reach areas or do not have access to digital or other basic infrastructure. Some do not see the benefits of being connected, often because of limited relevant digital content. Still others are illiterate, and many are poor. Inequality – in terms of gender, income or other factors – compounds the problem.

The barriers are real, and the costs are high. But we need to ask ourselves: what are the costs of inaction – of not extending access and use?

In December 2018 the internet reached it’s “50-50 moment,” with more than half of the world’s population now online. Having achieved this milestone, we now confront new connectivity challenges. While the annual internet user growth is slowing considerably, we need new models If we are to achieve 100% internet adoption. We need new workable models to accelerate investment to support universal access.

Eniola Mafe. Project Lead, Internet for All, Global Leadership Fellow, World Economic Forum

Our approach.

Internet for All establishes and facilitates physical and digital platforms at the global, regional and national level, that will create millions of new internet users, with a focus on the hardest to reach populations.

The project brings together stakeholders from the public and private sectors, non-profits, academia, international organizations, donors and civil society to create multistakeholder partnerships to develop impactful partnerships, accelerate innovations, coordinate investments, strengthen the policy and regulatory environment and align programmes

One of the primary focus points of Internet for All is supporting communities that face the greatest obstacles to connection due to issues including isolation and poverty.

Since its launch, Internet for All has achieved significant on-the-ground results globally:

  • Launched four operational country programmes in Rwanda, South Africa, Argentina and Jordan.
  • Attracted significant financial and human resources to support these country-level efforts.
  • Launched regional platforms in Latin America and Africa to scale Internet for All to new countries
  • Launched impacting country-level projects that are already bringing people online, such as Rwanda's Digital Ambassadors Program and the South Africa Imbizo Campaign
  • Developed a model for applying blended finance to connectivity investments

Tangible results so far include in Rwanda, where the social enterprise Digital Opportunity Trust is partnering with Mozilla and the Government of Rwanda in a “train-the-trainers” programme. This programme has deployed over 115 ambassadors who have gone on to train over 30,144 citizens. They are currently training another 10,000 citizens, deployed across 12 districts of Rwanda.

Another example includes the Argentina programme, which supported the development of the “dig once” policy at the national level, trained 80,000 young people on digital skills, and has 11 active projects addressing 3-4 million new internet users. In South Africa, the Internet4Mzansi project incubated by the programme has provided affordable connectivity to over 33,000 people in remote areas. Smart Africa, an alliance of 29 African member countries, 32 businesses and 12 non-business partners, is replicating the Internet for All methodology to new countries.

Internet for All is part of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation – a global platform for cooperation to build a sustainable, inclusive and trustworthy digital economy.

How can you get involved?

We are inviting companies to join our mission to improve connectivity to the digital world globally.

You can partner with us to Shape the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation, and Internet for All, to help make the internet accessible to every person around the world – as soon as possible.

Join us today and help shape a better future
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Join us today and help shape a better future
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