Wanted: $428bn to connect remaining three billion people to the internet

Source: ITU.

The world will need to invest $428bn to connect the remaining three billion people aged 10 and above still without access to the internet by 2030, according to new findings released this week.

The aim is big, no doubt. But not unachievable according to the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) latest report on connectivity. The estimate not only covers infrastructure, policy and regulatory frameworks, and basic digital skills and local content at both the global and regional levels, but also the means necessary to extend networks to unserved communities.

Why this is important. As shown in the figure below, by 2019 nearly half of the global adult population was still unconnected to broadband.

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Sources: Estimates based on GSMA, ITU, UN population data. ITU.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed severe inequalities around the world, especially in terms of access, affordability, and use of the internet. With many services pushed online, the risk of the gap increasing and leaving part of the population behind is real. No connection means no access to information, with far-reaching consequences on all levels.

To achieve the $428bn target by 2030 action must be taken, with infrastructure investments at its core.

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Sources: Estimates based on ITU, GSMA, A4AI, operator and regulator data/ITU
Considering the next steps. ITU recommends a number of key actions, starting with securing private investments for infrastructure and public financing for skills and policy. An enabling policy and regulatory environment are necessary, especially in low and middle-income countries. Moreover, a clear roadmap needs to be developed so that plans turn into concrete steps forward. As the director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, Doreen Bogdan-Martin explains:

« Cooperation is a must but it is not enough. We need innovative ways of connecting people, fostering innovation, and promoting new technologies. It is up to us to find new ways of collaborating on solutions to chronic financing barriers, investment brakes, and implementation hurdles. »