More than 90 per cent of the world now can access the Internet through a 3G or higher quality network.However, the latest data from International
Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimated that only 51.2 per cent of the world’s population is actually using the Internet.While there are over 100 million Internet users in Nigeria, penetration, according to Internet World Stats is 50.2 per cent. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) puts broadband penetration at 30.9 per cent.
However, ITU noted that to account for the difference in Internet access and use, it has become critical to understand the barriers that prevent people from using the services that could be available to them.
At the ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium (WTIS), the global forum for telecommunication and information and communication technology (ICT) measurements, several sessions explored the barriers keeping people offline and how better data can drive better policies to bring help the remaining 3.7 billion people into the information society so that they, too, can reap the benefits of the digital economy.
A combination of obstacles contributes to the persistent digital divide. These include: affordability of devices and services, lack of technical and digital skills, absence of relevant content or local language content, safety concerns, and others.
Research Manager LIRNEasia, a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank in Asia, Shazna Zuhyle, said “when we ask the question about what the barriers are for phone ownership, affordability is something that comes up quite predominantly, as expected.
He added adding that the lack of relevant content or services is also a key barrier. “If people don’t feel the need, then they’re not going to go as far as to jump across that next bridge” to owning a smartphone.
Affordability targets set out by the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development state that 1 gigabyte (1GB) of data should amount to less than 2% of monthly income, named the “1 for 2 targets.”
To give a sense of what that represents, 1GB of data is approximately 1,000 emails or around 20 hours of Internet browsing. Currently, only 24 countries surveyed meet that affordability target, according to the Alliance for Affordable Internet, a global network of 80 organizations working on lowering prices so that Internet access becomes more affordable, especially in low-income countries.
“Affordability is not the only issue, but one of the most important issues of getting people online, and to do that from the alliance’s perspective is to focus on the policy,” said Danaraj Thaukur, Research Director of the Web Foundation. “In fact, in the (Affordability) Report in the last couple of years that we published, we’ve shown that improvements in policies by countries are also linked to improvements in affordability.”
But as he explained, better policies require better data.ITU’s Measuring the Information Society Report is the key resource for global ICT data. It includes regional Internet penetration rates, sex-disaggregated data on Internet use and other key data. Policy-makers are making use of this global data to drive better policy decisions.
To improve the data available to policy-makers, Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, discussed various approaches to data collection and why better data will lead to better outcomes. This is especially true in the field of digital skills, as countries are now beginning to measure and track the level of proficiency of Internet users.
“Self-reporting is a cost efficient, quick way to get a sense of people’s skills… but there are other ways. Self-reporting does not always correlate with the actual skills,” she warned. So she suggests the use of standardized performance assessments of selected samples to check the validity of the results and to plan relevant digital skills training.
Elif Koksal-Oudot, an OECD economist, discussed what types of skills are needed to prosper in the digital society and stressed the need for internationally recognized data to compare skills globally.
As reported in the OECD Skills Outlook, improving ICT skills is a key factor to sustained economic growth and policy-makers are in need of quality data on skills and best practices for skills training.To support these efforts, ITU’s Digital Skills Toolkit provides additional guidance for skill building. It was released as part of ITU and ILO’s effort to train 5 million youth with digital skills in support of the Decent Jobs for Youth Initiative.