When we hear “Facebook,” we often associate the app/website with a newsfeed full of brash political opinions, adorable dog videos, and ludicrous memes. All that clickbait makes it easy to forget the fact that, while we’re scrolling away, they are conducting powerful research. From artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to economics and human-computer interaction, Facebook is exploring every recess of the technological world.

In this piece, we aim to summarize the 2018 Inclusive Internet Index. The report was commissioned by Facebook and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Why Summarize the Index?

Access to the internet can be a great equalizer. Alternately, a lack of online access can deepen the disparity between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, and the educated and illiterate. The idea behind this index is to “narrow the ‘digital divide.’” The report also provides a benchmark of national-internet inclusion across four main categories:

    • Availability: The quality and breadth of available infrastructure required for access and levels of internet usage.
    • Affordability: The cost of access relative to income and the level of competition in the internet marketplace.
    • Relevance: The existence and extent of local language content and relevant content.
    • Readiness: The capacity to access the Internet, including skills, cultural acceptance and supporting policy.

By measuring these variables, policymakers can use this data to facilitate positive social and economic change for their countries. Moreover, as internet availability and affordability improves, the relevance and value of the content available to low-income regions will foster better education, health, financial decisions, and civic engagement.

What’s New in Year Two?

This is the second year Facebook and the EIU joined forces to “gauge perceptions of how Internet use affects people’s lives.” So what is different in year two? Researchers:

    • Expanded index from 75 to 86 countries. This covers national-level internet inclusion for a staggering 91% of the world’s population.
    • Published a new global Value of the Internet Survey. Collected feedback from 4,237 respondents.

Increased Connectivity

Within the 70 countries that both the 2017 and 2018 report shared, internet connectivity grew 8.3% over the past year from 44.9% to 48.6%. Interestingly, progress was fastest in low-income countries, turning a 65.1% increase in connectivity.

There were three noteworthy countries that showed the largest year-to-year increases in connectivity which included:

    • Rwanda (490.8%)
    • Nepal (138.1%)
    • Tanzania (87.8%)

Low-Income Internet Is Showing Upgrades

While economic inequity is still staggering across the globe, the mobile internet gap between the rich and poor is shrinking. Moreover, the availability of mobile internet services has been shown to be a vital resource for low-income counties.

This year’s Inclusive Internet Index showed that 4G networks grew significantly, while the cost of mobile connectivity continued to fall from 12.1% of monthly income in 2017 to 10% in 2018. Countries showing the greatest expansion in G4 coverage included:

    • Guatemala (3,935.0%)
    • Indonesia (658.8%)
    • Thailand (366.7%)
    • Zambia (330.6%)
    • China (244.0%)

Gender Inequality Is Still Pervasive

Some inequities are taking longer to rectify than others. One of these injustices is the gender gap in internet inclusion. Across all the indexed countries, men were 33.5% more likely to have internet access than women, a gap that’s significantly more pervasive in low-income counties.

It should be noted, however, that there are some low-income countries with commendable progressive policies such as Nepal, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. Through digital education initiatives and training, gender discrepancies in internet access will, hopefully, continue to decrease.

Ideally, other governments will follow suit and implement policies that could help eliminate this inequity such as:

    • Building national gender-specific digital plans
    • Embedding internet access in wider gender equality plans
  • Creating information and communication technology (ICT) training programs for women

Security Is Still an Issue

Cybersecurity is always a hot-button topic. In some European countries, concerns about information and privacy are a major barrier to full internet inclusion. It was found that Europeans were the least trusting of internet privacy, with 60.8% reporting they are not confident in it at all.

Moreover, 85.2% of respondents said privacy concerns were limiting their use of the internet, while 46.3% said the same of security fears. Hopefully, in the coming years, European governments can help to ease the reservations of the public while also implementing next-level security and privacy technology.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The UN has ambitiously developed 17 sustainable development goals that they hope to accomplish by 2030. One milestone is incredibly relevant to this index. Within goal nine, the UN aims to, “significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in the least developed countries by 2020.”

This target is so intrinsically tied to the UN’s other goals that it could be argued that accessible internet could be the linchpin to overcome other disparities such as gender and economic inequality in both low and high-income countries.

The Internet Is Empowering People

More than half of internet users (53.9%) surveyed reported that the internet helped them to become more independent in their daily lives, and a 56.1% said it gave them the ability to earn money. In fact, nearly 75% of respondents said it was the go-to resource for finding work. This empowerment was even more pronounced in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Today, internet access is viewed as more than just a simple tool for communication and web browsing, it’s thought of as a necessity—and it very well may be. In fact, 67.1% of surveyed respondents believe that access to the Internet should be a “human right.” Furthermore, 69.3% of South Asian respondents said the internet gave them the confidence to express themselves.

Beyond economics, 58.9% of respondents said the internet has given them a way to support causes they care about, and 44.1% use the internet to consider life goals.

Where to Go From Here

Obviously, there is more work to be done, but the 8.3% increase in global internet connectivity is nothing to sneeze at. Through ongoing education and advocacy, the hope is that the gender disparities in internet access will continue to decrease.  Moreover, more relevant content will be populated in countries lacking financial, health, and educational online media.

The internet can be a great equalizer for low-income countries. However, without it, they will continue to fall behind. Policymakers in these countries need to focus on developing a strategy that makes internet affordable and available to everyone regardless of age, income, race, sex, or religion. If you would like to learn more about internet inclusion, visit The Inclusive Internet Index.

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