ITU: One-Third of Earth’s Population Will Soon Be Online

CYBERSPACE—If you thought the freeways were getting crowded, get ready for the next internet milestone. By the end of 2010, the number of people online is expected to surpass 2 billion, or one-third of the world’s population.

The presumably good news is courtesy of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency for information and communication technology (ICT) issues. But the 2 billion person benchmark is just one of the remarkable internet-related milestones and achievements realized over the past few years.

ITU’s latest statistics published today in The World in 2010: ICT facts and figures reveal that the number of Internet users worldwide doubled in the past five years and will surpass the two billion mark in 2010,” ITU said in an announcement issued today. “The number of people having access to the Internet at home has increased from 1.4 billion in 2009 to almost 1.6 billion in 2010. The new data were released on the eve of World Statistics Day, which will be celebrated worldwide on 20 October 2010.”

The announcement continues, “162 million of the 226 million new Internet users in 2010 will be from developing countries, where Internet users grow at a higher rate. By the end of 2010, 71 percent of the population in developed countries will be online compared to 21 percent of the population in developing countries. While in developed countries 65 percent of people have access to the Internet at home, this is the case for only 13.5 percent of people in developing countries where Internet access in schools, at work and public locations is critical. Regional differences are significant: 65 percent of Europeans are on the Internet, compared to only 9.6 percent of Africans.”

While access to the internet is certainly increasing, there remain obstacles preventing widespread adoption in poorer countries.

“Overall, the price of ICT services is falling, but high-speed Internet access remains prohibitively expensive, especially in low-income developing countries,” reported ITU. “In 2009, an entry-level fixed (wired) broadband connection cost on average 190 PPP$ (Purchasing power parity in USD) per month in developing countries, compared to only 28 PPP$ in developed countries.”

Mobile services are more affordable, however, “with an average monthly cost of 15 PPP$ in developing countries compared to around 18 PPP$ in developed countries.”

 “Mobile phone penetration in developing countries now stands at 68 percent—higher than any other technology before,” said Sami Al Basheer, director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “These countries have been innovative in adapting mobile technology to their particular needs and will be able to draw even greater benefits from broadband once adequate and affordable access is available.”

More information about the ITU report can be found here.