What Barriers Must Internet.org Overcome to Connect the Remaining 4.4B People with No Access?

By David Cohen 

McKinseyAccessBarriers650The goal of Internet.org — the initiative launched in August 2013 by Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung — is to connect the 4.4 billion people who currently lack access to the Internet, but a mission on such a large scale is not without barriers, and a study released Wednesday by McKinsey & Co., “Offline and Falling Behind: Barriers to Internet Adoption” (embedded below), examines those barriers.

The study broke the barriers into four categories — incentives, low incomes and affordability, user capability and infrastructure — and found that:

  • 3.4 billion of the 4.4 billion people without Internet access are located in 20 countries.
  • 1.1 billion to 2.8 billion of them are outside the range of existing mobile networks.
  • 920 million of them are illiterate.
  • Women in developing countries are 25 percent less likely to be connected than men.

The report is embedded below, and seven key findings follow:

  1. Over the past decade, the global online population grew to just over 2.7 billion people, driven by five trends: the expansion of mobile network coverage and increasing mobile Internet adoption, urbanization, shrinking device and data-plan prices, a growing middle class and the increasing utility of the Internet.
  2. The online population is expected to grow by another 500 million to 900 million by 2017, meaning that 4.2 billion people will still be offline.
  3. Some 75 percent of the offline population is concentrated in 20 countries, and those people are disproportionately rural, low-income, elderly, illiterate and female.
  4. The offline population faces barriers to Internet adoption spanning four categories: incentives, low incomes and affordability, user capability and infrastructure.
  5. McKinsey & Co. found a systematically positive and, in some cases, large correlation between barrier categories and Internet penetration rates.
  6. Some 2 billion of the offline population of 4.4 billion live in 10 countries that face challenges across all four barrier categories, and 1.1 billion are in countries dominated by a single barrier category (more details below).
  7. Current initiatives, forthcoming innovations and lessons from countries that have made headway are cause for optimism.

McKinsey & Co. also broke down where countries fell in terms of barriers to connecting everyone to the Internet:

High barriers across the board: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Tanzania.

Medium to high barriers: Egypt, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Medium barriers, greatest challenges in incentives: China, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Medium barriers, greatest challenges in low incomes and affordability: Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey.

Low barriers across the board: Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the U.S.

Offline and falling behind: Barriers to Internet adoption