40% of global population now online; women catching up

Nearly 40 per cent of the global population or 2.7 billion people are already online in 2013, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

In the developing world, 31 per cent of the population is online compared to 77 per cent in the developed world. Though these figures represent digital disparity — there is hope as most governments, aided by technological developments, have placed broadband penetration on the top of their developmental agenda. Mobile broadband is expected to dominate the choice of technology. According to the ITU, a U.N. agency, Europe is the region with the highest Internet penetration rate, where at 75 per cent or nearly three out of every four Europeans have access to the Internet. The United States, with 61 per cent penetration, stands the second highest amongst regions (see graphic). Africa has nearly 16 per cent of its citizens using the Net — only half the penetration rate of Asia-Pacific, where one out of every three citizens has access to the Internet.

Along expected lines, more men than women have access to the Internet, but unlike the early years of mobile telephony, the gender digital divide is not as sharp. Globally, 37 per cent of all women are online, compared with 41 per cent of all men. In effect, nearly 1.3 billion women and 1.5 billion men have access to the Internet.

The developing world hosts nearly 826 million female Net users and 980 male users. The developed world, on the other hand, has near parity between male and female users, with the numbers stacking up at 483 million and 475 million respectively. The gender gap is more pronounced in the developing world, where 16 per cent less women than men use the Internet, compared with only 2 per cent less women than men in the developed world.

According to the ITU, 41 per cent or nearly 750 million households are connected to the Net by 2013. Nearly half of these households are in the developing world, where household Internet penetration is approaching 28 per cent. In the developed world, 78 per cent of households are connected to the Internet. In 2013, nearly 1.1 billion homes worldwide, of which 90 per cent are in the developing world, are yet to be connected to the Internet.

Europe and Africa are the regions with the highest and lowest household Internet penetrations respectively. About 77 per cent homes in Europe compare with an extreme low of 7 per cent in Africa. The majority of households in the Americas are online at 61 per cent, compared to one in every three households having access to the Internet in Arab States, Asia and the Pacific.

Between 2009 and 2013, Internet penetration in households grew the fastest in Africa with an annual growth of 27 per cent, followed by 15 per cent in Asia, the Pacific, in Arab States and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region — which includes nine official and two unofficial member-states.

According to a McKinsey & Co. report of December 2012, India will double its Internet users from 160 million to 330 million by 2015. India’s National Telecom Policy envisages 175 million broadband subscribers by 2017 and 600 million by 2020.