Internet users will reach 2 billion in 2010, U.N. says

The number of Internet users worldwide has doubled in the past five years and will surpass the 2 billion mark in 2010, with the majority of the 226 million new users this year coming from developing countries, the United Nations telecommunication agency reported Tuesday.

The number of people with Internet access at home has increased from 1.4 billion in 2009 to almost 1.6 billion in 2010, with 65 per cent of these in developed countries and only 13.5 per cent in developing countries, where access in schools, at work and public locations is critical, the International Telecommunication Union said, releasing the new data on the eve of World Statistics Day.

By the end of the year, 71 per cent of the population in developed countries will be online, compared to 21 per cent in developing countries. Regional differences are significant: 65 per cent of Europeans are on the Internet, compared to only 9.6 per cent of Africans.

With the rapidly increasing high-bandwidth content and applications on the Internet, there is a growing demand for higher-speed broadband connections as a catalyst for growth.

Hamadoun Touré has called broadband “the next tipping point, the next truly transformational technology,” generating jobs, driving growth and productivity, and underpinning long-term economic competitiveness. he is secretary general of the Telecommunication Union.

Over the past year, there has been strong growth in fixed broadband subscriptions and by the end of 2010, fixed broadband penetration will reach 8 per cent globally, but levels in developing countries remain low at 4.4 subscriptions per 100 people compared to 24.6 in developed countries.

While high-speed Internet is still out of reach for many people in poorer countries, mobile telephony is becoming ubiquitous, with access to networks now available to over 90 per cent of the global population. Data indicate that among the estimated 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions by the end of 2010, 3.8 billion will be in the developing world.

“Mobile phone penetration in developing countries now stands at 68 per cent, higher than any other technology before,” said Sami Al Basheer of the agency. “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.”

Overall, the price of services is falling, but high-speed Internet access remains prohibitively expensive, especially in low-income developing countries.

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