While Western countries have exceeded expectations in ICT growth, the UK is behind Ireland, France and Korea for internet users by population ratio - but beats the US - figures show.
Britain (the 6th largest internet user by ratio in the world) also ranks below Korea, France, Ireland, Denmark and Andorra for high-speeds (10 Mbps or over) according to figures from trusted global ICT research body, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The study highlighted the tremendous growth of internet accessibility and the affordability of broadband since 2000. Broadband is now classed as affordable in 111 countries, which means the cost of a basic broadband plan corresponds to less than 5 percent of the GDP.
About 3.2 billion people are using the internet today. Further, there are currently over 7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, 738 million more than at the turn of the century.
But there is still a lot of work to do to balance the connectivity divide between countries, the ITU warned. In the least developed countries (LDCs) which include Sierra Leone, Uganda, Yemen, Afghanistan and Yemen, only seven percent of households have internet access, compared with the world average of 46 percent.
On average, developing countries have 35 percent of the population online, but LDCs have only ten percent. In contrast, 83 percent of people in developed countries have internet access.
Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has begun a campaign to democratise the internet. Dubbed Internet.org, the campaign hopes to provide free, or low cost basic services in areas where poor adoption drives up costs. It already provides an app to browse selected health, employment and local information websites without data charges in parts of Africa, Latin American and Asia.
On its website Internet.org states: “Devices are too expensive. Service plans are too expensive. Mobile networks are few and far between. Content isn’t available in the local language. People aren’t sure what value the internet will bring. Power sources are limited or costly. Networks can’t support large amounts of data. Together we can remove these barriers and give the unconnected majority of the world the power to connect.”
Zuckerberg also funds a Connectivity Lab which is researching methods to make internet access more affordable - including use of drones satellites and lasers to access isolated areas.
The project has faced criticism over net neutrality issues - the concept in which the internet has two tiers; one which the wealthier can access and one for those who have a limited service. The debate originally surrounded differing internet speeds or tiers with less capacity, furthering the divide between those who could afford a better broadband service.
“ICTs will play an even more significant role in the post-2015 era and in achieving future Sustainable Development Goals as the world moves faster and faster towards a digital society,” said Mr Brahima Sanou, the Director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “Our mission is to connect everyone and to create a truly inclusive information society, for which we need comparable and high-quality data and statistics to measure progress.”