In the developed world, the internet is something the vast majority of us use every day, but how far away are we from a world where everybody at least has access to an internet connection?
A report called ‘The Internet is For Everyone’ gives an interesting insight into how experts saw the future of the internet back in April 1999. Some of it is impressively accurate, like the predictions that the web could outgrow the telephone network and the rise of IP telephony, but there are other parts where it’s easy to scoff with the benefit of nearly 18 years’ hindsight.
The report estimated that the number of people on the web worldwide would probably pass the 300 million mark by the end of 2000. By 2047, it went on, thanks to population growth and increased internet connectivity, even a conservative estimate that 25% of the world was online would mean almost three billion internet users, representing a tenfold increase in less than half a century.
Big numbers, but as it turned out, nowhere near big enough. As Internet Live Stats shows, the number of users (defined as people with a working, live internet connection) had actually topped 400 million by July 2000. As for the 2047 estimate, the world has comfortably smashed that already, with more than 3.5 billion people now enjoying online access. Since the 1999 report was written, 12 times as many people are connected.
With almost half of the world now online and a projected global population of 9.4 billion by 2047, there will be around 4.5 billion internet users even if there are no advances in proportional terms.
Experts expect progress to be quicker, though. In 2013, Google chairman Eric Schmidt predicted the whole world will be online by 2020, which now seems a little ambitious. A 2014 survey by the Pew Research Centre suggested 2025 was more likely, while other campaigners have targeted 2030.
Internet usage is without doubt growing exponentially, but there will always be difficult geopolitical obstacles that slow down its growth. One of our recent articles mentioned an internet shutdown in Cameroon, and this is not a unique case.
Even in the UK, some of us are just not ‘internet people’. In fact, the Office for National Statistics says only 4 in 10 people over 75 are regular internet users, and that 25% of disabled adults have never used it at all.
At least one point mentioned in the 1999 report is as true now as it was then – that ‘The Internet is For Everyone’ is easier said than done.