The International Telecommunications (ITU) estimated that more than half (51.2%) of the world's population was using the Internet (defined as using any Internet-based application from any location and device over the last three months) by the end of 2018. The outcome of a stunning pace of global growth, this marks the first time a majority of the world is using the Internet. However, it also highlights the fact that approximately half the world is not yet connected to the Internet. While the threats to Internet users are many—from misinformation or cyberstalking to an increasing loss of control over our personal data and privacy—to be offline today means to be excluded from opportunities to learn and earn, to access valuable services, and to participate in democratic debate. Although a discussion on the value of connectivity is essential, and we recognize a need to define just what sort of Internet we want to build for the future—this column focuses on those who remain unconnected and when they may come online.
In 2016, the United Nations (U.N.) declared Internet access a human right.a If we accept this U.N. position then those who remain unconnected are not merely inconvenienced, they are being denied a fundamental human right. The U.N. has developed connectivity targets including the U.N. Broadband Commission 2025 target (75% of the world using broadband Internet, 35% in least-developed countries or LDCs) and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 9c target for 2020 (universal and affordable access in LDCs). Based on the models presented in this column we are unlikely to meet either of these goals; instead our results indicate a general slowdown in growth in Internet use.
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