Facebook published its flagship Inclusive Internet Index 2019 report which benchmarks Internet inclusion across four categories: availability, affordability, relevance, and readiness. The 2019 report covers 100 countries which represent 94% of the world’s population and 96% of the global GDP. It indicates that some digital divides were narrowed thanks to improvement in access, affordability, and quality of coverage. Women and people with disabilities were also included in low-income and lower-middle-income countries driving progress. Yet, compared to last year, digital divides manifested due to poor progress in Internet access and network coverage improvements. The downturn in affordability of mobile data and devices has also adversely impacted people in low-income countries and women who depend on mobile devices as their primary means of accessing the Internet. Additionally, the report shed light on challenges vis-à-vis online privacy and decline in trust in government information in Europe and North America which could hinder the growth of the digital economy. The top countries in the Inclusive Internet Index 2019 by income were Sweden followed by Singapore and the USA.
The need for people to gain access to ICT resources and narrow the digital divide is crucial, and is especially relevant now in the light of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is also important to understand how access to the Internet affects the level of economic and social development in a country.
Internet access is growing rapidly, yet large groups of people remain unconnected to the Internet. As of 2015, about 43% of people had access to the Internet (in developing countries only 34%). Access to ICTs is part of the Sustainable Development Agenda, which commits to ‘significantly increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’ (Goal 9.c).