Even though a big growth in the amount of people online is expected, 60% of the global population is still offline. Of these 4.4 billion offline people, 3.2 billion live in 20 countries and are disproportionately rural, illiterate and women. According to McKinsey, ‘being on the wrong side’ of the digital divide will have big impacts on people and the countries they live in, as the internet improves the quality of lives and boosts economic growth.
In the report ‘Offline and falling behind: Barriers to Internet adoption’ global consulting firm McKinsey & Company researched global connectivity and the barriers for consumers to internet adoption in 25 countries and, based on the results, established the Internet Barriers Index.
The research by McKinsey & Company shows that in the past decade, the global online population grew with 1.8 billion to 2.7 billion in 2013. Of these newly online people, 48% live in five countries: China, US, India, Brazil and Russia. The biggest rise in percentage of online people is seen in India, followed by China. The country with the largest penetration is the US.
McKinsey states that going at the current growth rate*, an additional 500-900 million people are forecasted to join the online population by 2017. Even though the amount of connected people has risen in the past ten years, and is expected to rise in the coming years, McKinsey notes that a big portion of the global population is lagging behind and is still offline. As much as 4.4 billion people worldwide are still offline, which represents 60% of the global population. Of the 4.4 billion people, 3.4 billion live in just over 20 countries, and 920 million of these 3.4 billion are illiterate.
Interesting to see is that among the 20 countries that account for 75% of the offline population are also countries with the highest online penetration growth rates. For example, India experienced the biggest increase in online population (27%), althogh it still has 1,063 million people offline. The same applies for China, with 736 million people offline, Brazil with 97 million and Russia and the US with both around the 50 million people offline.
Of the offline people, around 64% live in rural areas, while McKinsey estimates that this only applies for 24% of all internet users worldwide. The offline group is, in addition, also less literate with a 28 percentage of illiteracy compared to the almost zero percentage among online people. In addition, the majority of the offline people appear to be women. "The offline population is disproportionally rural, illiterate and women," write the authors.
Danger of not being connected
According to the consultants, not being connected to the internet will have profound effects on people, as well as on the broader global community. The internet has given connected people the opportunity to gain access to information and education that helped improved the quality of their lives, and provided them with economic opportunities. In addition to improving individuals’ lives, the internet has driven business growth and accelerated the economic development of the online countries.
The consultants state that, with the internet becoming more and more embedded in every aspect of life, people that are on the ‘wrong side’ of the digital divide risk falling even more behind and might never find the means to catch up.
To overcome this, inclusive internet user growth is needed. A growth that could be achieved with a multipronged strategy with close collaboration between different players, including governments, policy makers, nongovernmental organisations, network operators, device manufacturers, content and service providers, and brands.
* The growth rate has decreased from 15.1% in in 2005–08 to 10.4% in 2009–2013.