What is Internet Poverty?
In today’s interconnected world, internet access has gone from being just a luxury to being an absolute necessity. Virtually every sphere of modern life now takes place online- spanning work, government interactions, commercial transactions, and social networking.
This is not just the case in advanced economies like the United States; it’s also the case, even more in some aspects, in developing countries. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the internet. Disparities in internet access no longer just reflect poverty and inequality; they perpetuate them.
Over 1 billion people remain completely excluded and disconnected from this modern world, unable to access even a basic package of mobile internet. As a result, they pay a high cost in limited access to markets, government services, and even their own families and communities.
Redefining Poverty in the Age of the Internet
The definition of poverty has traditionally focused on needs for essentials such as food, shelter, and clothing. However, these definitions were created before the age of the internet. The Internet Poverty Index (IPI) incorporates the idea that access to the Internet should be considered an integral part of an extended poverty basket. The IPI provides a ranking of countries by number and share of people in internet poverty. To this end, World Data Lab has created three pillars to gauge internet poverty.
The first pillar is quantity- how much data is needed at a minimum. The index sets this threshold at one gigabyte a month. It’s important to note that when we’re talking about the internet, we’re not talking about broadband but rather people’s ability to access the internet on a mobile phone. This approach is justified by the fact that nearly everyone today possesses a mobile device, making it a crucial tool for internet access, with many people using their phones to conduct business or even attend school.
Next, we turn to the issue of quality. The prices of internet services are influenced not only by the quantity of data but also by the quality of the connection. It’s therefore important to make sure in comparing prices across different countries that we’re also comparing the price of the same quality of internet access. The index establishes a threshold quality of 10 megabytes per second of download speed. This still only allows for basic internet usage but does not support activities like video streaming or serving as a home office. Thus, we are still considering a very basic internet package in our assessment.
Finally, the third pillar is affordability. We question how many people would be able to afford this minimum internet package if they were to allocate 10% of their total expenditure towards it—which is still a considerable expense.
Which Countries Are the Most Internet Poor?
Globally, currently, around 1.05 billion people live in internet poverty, which is around 13% of the world’s population. Of these people, the majority live in Africa and Asia. 524 million live in Africa, and 418 million live in Asia.
Looking at the top ten countries most affected by internet poverty (the countries that have the largest percentage of their population living in internet poverty), all of those countries are in Africa, with the exception of Venezuela, where internet poverty affects 74% percent of its population. Other than that, we can see Chad leading this list at 83.6%, followed by Madagascar (81.6%), Mozambique (80.6%), and Burundi (79%).
When we look at the absolute numbers of people in internet poverty, India is on top at 230 million people in internet poverty, followed by Nigeria (67 million) and Congo (58 million).
Ways To Reduce Internet Poverty
There are two primary avenues to alleviate internet poverty: reducing internet prices and increasing household incomes.
By reducing the cost of connectivity, barriers to access can be lowered, enabling a broader segment of the population to afford internet services. This approach requires concerted efforts from policymakers, service providers, and stakeholders to create an environment that fosters competition, innovation, and cost efficiency in the Internet service sector.
The second strategy revolves around increasing household incomes. As internet access is measured as a percentage of household spending, households with higher incomes have greater financial capacity to allocate a larger portion of their resources to internet services. Strategies that promote economic growth, reduce income inequality, and enhance job opportunities can uplift household incomes, thereby enabling more individuals to afford internet connectivity. This approach emphasizes the importance of comprehensive socio-economic development to address the root causes of internet poverty.