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Monetary Inclusion: The World Digital Divide

Chart of the week from NN IP. Analysis of the range of digital networks.

Many unbanked adults already have cell phones. The challenge now is to develop reliable internet access in underserved areas. This requires investments to increase digital inclusion by expanding network coverage and telecommunications infrastructure, making identification processes more secure and improving financial and digital literacy.

According to the latest Global Connectivity Report from the International Telecommunication Union, the number of internet users has grown steadily over the past three decades to around 4.9 billion people, or 63% of the world’s population. However, the adoption of digital technologies varies greatly from country to country. In high-income countries, 91% of households are connected to the internet, while low-income countries lag far behind at 22%, as seen in our chart of the week.

According to the ITU report, most of the world’s offline population – 1.7 billion people – lives in the Asia-Pacific region, mainly in China and India. Another 738 million people remain offline in Africa. Global network coverage has improved significantly over the past five years, suggesting that the key barriers to digital inclusion are high costs – particularly for data consumption – a lack of digital skills and privacy concerns.

The global digital divide

Percentage of the population using the internet in 2020

Source: International Telecommunication Union Global Connectivity Report 2022

Internet access can improve people’s well-being and promote personal development by providing access to a variety of information sources. Online learning has helped transform education. The internet has also created more efficient and productive job markets through innovations such as remote work and online collaboration, and made it easier for job seekers to acquire the skills they need. All of this contributes to a fairer distribution of economic opportunities and benefits.

The expansion of internet access has been facilitated by the rapid adoption of mobile phones, with subscriptions reaching 8.6 billion by the end of 2021, more than the number of people on Earth. In many countries, mobile broadband is the only Internet access. Many less developed regions – for example in Africa – have focused on developing mobile networks that are cheaper and more flexible than fixed networks. The widespread availability of affordable smartphones and the falling price of prepaid data plans have also helped make smartphones a key driver of digital inclusion.

With the advent of mobile banking, these phones are also promoting bank account ownership and financial inclusion.

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