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More Than Half the World Is Online

Randy Sukow / Jan 3, 2019

As we get started with a new year, it seems like a good time to take notice of the latest estimates from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which recently estimated that 51.2 percent of the world’s population or 3.9 billion people, are using the internet as of Dec. 31, 2018. For the first time, ITU says, more than half the world is online.

“ITU's global and regional estimates for 2018 are a pointer to the great strides the world is making towards building a more inclusive global information society," said ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao in a press release last month.

Of course, there are still wide coverage gaps. Only about 45.3 percent of the population use the internet in developing countries compared to the developed world, where 80.9 percent are online. But the rate of growth in developing countries has been greater in recent years.

Wireless networks have played a big part in the spread of internet access, especially in Asia-Pacific regions and in Africa. “Nearly the entire world population, or 96 percent, now lives within reach of a mobile cellular network. Furthermore, 90 per cent of the global population can access the Internet through a 3G or higher speed network,” ITU said.

The decline of landline telephone service in the U.S. is also evident in the ITU figures. In much of the world, there never was extensive telephone service and mobile phone networks grew in many places where conventional phone service never existed. Today, ITU estimates only 924 million fixed telephone lines worldwide. In comparison, “the number of mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions is greater than the global population,” it said.

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