One-Third Of World's Population Using Internet, Developing Nations Showing Biggest Gains

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Would it surprise you to learn that only 70 percent of Americans have Internet access? And that the U.S. ranks 28th in the world in percentage of people who have access to Internet?

According to a new report from the U.N.’s telecommunication’s agency, the International Telecommunications Union, by 2015, countries like China and the Philippines are likely to far outstrip the U.S. in Internet and social media use on a percentage basis.

In addition, while English is currently the most-used language on the Web, Chinese will soon supplant it. Currently, English and Chinese speakers dominate the Internet, representing 27 percent and 24 percent of total global Internet users, respectively, with Spanish in third place (8 percent). Based on current growth rates, the total number of Chinese-language Internet users will overtake English language users by 2015.

Increased Internet usage also directly links to economic improvements.

According to the report, in 2009 the World Bank estimated that a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration would yield around a 1.38 percent increase in GDP growth on average for low and middle-income countries, which can directly affect their standards of health and living.

“Broadband is today a critical infrastructure in the growing global digital economy. … Countries that fail to invest in broadband infrastructure risk being excluded from today’s online economy,” the UN report stated.

The latest figures from the International Telecommunications Union indicate that there are now 2.26 billion people online, with 1 billion of them using mobile broadband subscriptions.

The report indicated that as of the end of 2011, there were 589 million fixed-broadband subscriptions (mostly in the developed world, led by the Asia-Pacific nations and Europe), and almost twice as many mobile broadband subscriptions -- 1.09 billion.

In addition, the average global rate of social network participation stood around 55 percent, with the top spots occupied by the Philippines, with 70 percent of its people on a social network; then Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The next problem to overcome, the commission said, was not inequality of access, but inequalities in speed and functionality in the digital devices available worldwide.

Citing daya from the Boston Consulting Group, the UN report estimated that the Internet economy in the G20 countries alone was valued at $2.3 trillion, or 4.1 percent of GDP; by 2016, this figure could almost double to $4.2 trillion. In 2011, McKinsey Global Institute estimated that the Internet accounted for 3.4 percent of total GDP and one-fifth of all growth in GDP for the G8 countries plus five other major economies (South Korea, Sweden, Brazil, China and India.)

By 2015, the UN’s goal is to have 60 percent of the world with internet access – 50 percent in developing counties and 15 percent in the least developed countries (up from 24 percent and just below 6 percent, respectively, at the end of 2011).

”Internet user penetration is unlikely to achieve this target, but further impetus is required to achieve it,” the UN report cautioned. “The question is whether mobile broadband will deliver the extra growth in access needed.”

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