Future Tense

Less Than 40 Percent of People Worldwide Have Ever Connected to the Internet

Not as many people as you might think.

Graphic from Facebook

As the net neutrality debate rages on, it’s easy to forget that there are people who have never experienced the injustice of an endlessly buffering Netflix movie. And it’s staggering to be confronted with the reality that only 37.9 percent of humans have access to the Internet once a year or more. That’s right: More than 60 percent of us have never connected.

Of course, for net neutrality advocates, the goal is to have a stable, open Internet available whenever this population can gain access, and that’s what Facebook’s Internet.org initiative is working on. On Tuesday, the group released its State of Connectivity report for 2014, which shows progress, but also challenges. The report points out that only 32 percent of people in developing countries have Internet access, compared with 78 percent in the developed world.

The report also says that people are gaining Internet access at a slower rate, a trend that has been going on for four years. The Internet added users at a rate of 6.6 percent in 2014, compared with 14.7 percent in 2010. Though the number of people connected will reach 3 billion in 2015, “at present rates of decelerating growth, the Internet won’t reach 4 billion people until 20197.” That’s a while from now.

The report says, “Without the cooperation of industry, governments and NGOs working together to improve the global state of connectivity by addressing the underlying reasons people are not connected to the Internet, connectivity may remain permanently out of reach for billions of people.”

Internet.org breaks the problem down into three categories: infrastructure, affordability, and relevance. The report also discusses how you need both a data connection and a device to actually access the Internet. These organizing principles may seem simplistic, but they are a useful way to see both barriers and potential jumping-off points for improvement. For example, the report says that almost 92 percent of people could connect to 2G data coverage if they had a device and/or a data plan that was affordable.

The report admits that “connecting the world is not an easy task.” It’s a refreshingly frank evaluation.