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UN set to miss target to get half the world online

Internet user growth is slowing and over half of the world's 7 billion people are offline, the United Nations (UN) has warned in a report released Monday.

Around 57 percent or 4.2 billion people do not enjoy regular access to the Internet and in the least-developed countries, only one in 10 people is online, the report found. At the same time however, mobile cellular subscriptions exceeded 7 billion for the first time this year.

Nonetheless the UN admitted that the milestone it set back in 2011 to get 4 billion internet users by 2020 is "unlikely to be achieved".

"This year's report finds mixed messages… Although strong growth rates continue for mobile broadband and Facebook usage, and mobile cellular subscriptions exceeded 7 billion for the first time during 2015, growth in global mobile cellular subscriptions and growth in Internet usage have slowed sharply," the UN's report said.

"We have reached a transition point in the growth of the Internet," the UN's report said.



2020 target ‘unlikely’

A number of reasons are behind the slowing growth. Expanding the internet to rural or remote areas is a challenge because it leads to "steep increases in marginal costs of network deployments for less densely populated or more remote areas, jeopardizing the viability of service provision on a commercial for-profit basis".

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Another "major" issue is expanding the web to represent the world's languages online. Today, only 5 percent of the world's languages are represented online, the UN said.

"Evidence suggests that overcoming the Internet's language barriers will be a key determinant in helping drive demand for – and access to – Internet services and content," the report concluded.


Gender divide

And there is also gender inequality when it comes to broadband access. Across the developing world, nearly 25 percent fewer women than men have Internet connectivity, and this gap rises to nearly 50 percent in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

"If women and girls are unable to enjoy the same access to broadband and ICTs, including the availability of relevant content, they will find themselves at a serious disadvantage in becoming fully literate, accessing skilled jobs, learning about and exercising their rights, and participating as citizens in public and policy-making processes," the UN warned.