ITU’s flagship annual Measuring the Information Society Report, released on 30 November 2015, gives an overview of information society developments as we reach the cusp between the end of the Millennium Development Goals and the beginning of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Republic of Korea tops the ICT Development Index (IDI) this year, with Denmark and Iceland close behind, in second and third place. The IDI top 30 ranking includes countries from Europe and high-income nations from other regions including Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Macao (China), New Zealand, Singapore and the United States.
Almost all countries surveyed improved their IDI ranking this year, but over the past five years, there has been a widening of the gap in IDI values between countries ranked in the middle and those towards the bottom of the distribution. In the 48 UN-designated Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the IDI grew less compared to other developing countries, and LDCs are falling behind in particular in the IDI ‘use’ sub-index – which could impact on their ability to derive development gains from ICTs.
The report identifies a group of ‘most dynamic countries’, which have recorded above-average improvements in their IDI rank over the past five years. These include (in order of greatest change in IDI ranking): Costa Rica, Bahrain, Lebanon, Ghana, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Suriname, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Oman.
In terms of global access to ICTs, the report reveals that 3.2 billion people are now online, representing 43.4% of the global population, while mobile-cellular subscriptions have reached almost 7.1 billion worldwide, with over 95% of the global population now covered by a mobile-cellular signal.
There are nonetheless still an estimated 350 million people worldwide who live in places which are out of reach of a mobile network – although it is encouraging to see that this figure has dropped from 450 million a year ago. There is still a very significant 3G gap, however – while 89% of the world’s urban population is now covered by a 3G network, only 29% per cent of the world’s 3.4 billion people living in rural areas benefit from 3G network coverage. The report also reveals a significant gender digital divide, with 46% of men but only 41% of women using the Internet, globally.
By the end of this year, 46% of households globally will have Internet access at home, up from 44% last year and just 30% five years ago, in 2010. In the developed world, 81.3% of households now have home Internet access, compared to 34.1% in the developing world, and just 6.7% in the LDCs.
Latest data show that growth in Internet use has slowed down, however, posting 6.9% global growth in 2015, after 7.4% growth in 2014. Nonetheless, the number of Internet users in developing countries has almost doubled in the past five years (2010-2015), with two thirds of all people online now living in the developing world.
Fastest growth continues to be seen in mobile broadband, with the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions worldwide having grown more than four-fold in five years, from 0.8 billion in 2010 to an estimated 3.5 billion in 2015. The number of fixed-broadband subscriptions has risen much more slowly, to an estimated 0.8 billion today.
The report also looks at ICT affordability, and notes that the price of mobile-cellular services continues to fall across the world. In LDCs, the mobile-cellular price basket came down to 14% of gross national income per capita (GNI p.c.) by the end of 2014, compared to 29% in 2008. The greatest decreases over the past year have been in mobile-broadband prices, which have made the service on average between 20% and 30% more affordable worldwide.
By early 2015, 111 economies (out of 160 with available data), including all of the world’s developed countries and 67 developing countries, had achieved the Broadband Commission for Digital Development’s target that the cost of broadband services should be no more than 5% of average monthly income. However, 22 developing countries still had broadband prices which corresponded to more than 20% of GNI p.c.
The report also notes that while tremendous progress has been in made in terms of mobile-broadband affordability, fixed-broadband prices actually increased between 2013 and 2014, after falling consistently for a number of years. In the LDCs in particular, fixed-broadband services remain unaffordable, and most of the countries ranked at the bottom of the fixed-broadband basket are LDCs. The 2014 average fixed-broadband basket corresponded to 98% of GNI p.c. in LDCs, up from 70% a year before – a sharp increase that will not improve the already very low uptake of fixed broadband in the world’s poorest countries.
Houlin Zhao was elected 19th Secretary-General of the ITU at the Busan Plenipotentiary Conference in October 2014. He took up his post on 1 January, 2015. Prior to his election, he served two terms of office as ITU Deputy Secretary-General (2007-2014), as well as two terms as elected Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (1999-2006). He is committed to further streamlining ITU’s efficiency, to strengthening its membership base through greater involvement of the academic community and of small- and medium-sized enterprises, and to broadening multistakeholder participation in ITU’s work. He is married with one son and two grandchildren.