Some 4.2 billion people globally do not have regular access to the Internet, according to the United Nations Broadband Commission. How fast that divide can be effectively erased is the issue.
Fortunately, the problem does not appear to be an intractable as was the task of supplying voice connections to the world’s people using the tool of fixed networks. Had we continued to rely on that strategy, perhaps the same four billion would not have use of voice and text message communications.
There are at present perhaps 1.3 billion telephone lines in service, globally. Most of those lines are in the developed world. There are some 572 million phone lines in service in the developing world. Assume half serve business locations. That leaves 286 million consumer lines.
If there are an average of three persons per household, then there might have been 858 million people in developing nations with telephone service by now, not the present situation where global population is about seven billion and the number of active mobile phone subscriptions is more than seven billion, as the ITU reports.
According to one survey, about 81 percent of households in developing regions do not have a fixed network telephone line. Had mobile access not arisen, there would have been just 1.3 billion locations–globally–with phone service.
According to Ovum, mobile cellular subscriptions will grow to 8.5 billion by 2019, of which 6.5 billion will be mobile broadband subscriptions. Indeed, mobile broadband is the fastest-growing ICT service in history, according to the U.N. Broadband Commission.
Though some might be pessimistic, the rapid growth of mobile phone usage, and then ability to leverage that installed base for mobile Internet access, gives many hope that the Internet access divide will be a comparatively easy problem to solve.