Connecting everyone on the planet to the internet could lift seven percent of the world's population out of abject poverty, according to a new study.
The report - "Connecting the world: Ten mechanisms for global inclusion" - released on Tuesday for Facebook, concludes that 500 million people could escape poverty by being connected online. Connecting the majority of the world would also benefit the global economy by over $6 trillion, according to the study, and provide a $400 billion growth opportunity for telecom operators.
Currently, 4.1 billion people are disconnected from the modern economy.
Internet growth across the globe is slowing down plus the majority of the world connects online via an extremely slow and unreliable 2-G network, according to the study led by Strategy&, PricewaterhouseCooper's strategy consulting business.
Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, have been campaigning for universal internet access. Zuckerberg outlined the progress of the Internet.org initiative at the World Mobile Congress in February, through which he hopes to expand Internet to billions of people who lack access. Free Basics, a key package that offers only select services including Facebook, operates in 38 countries and has brought access to about 19 million people, Zuckerberg told delegates.
However, in a blow to Facebook, regulators in India banned the service this month. Free Basics has taken criticism for its potential to block out smaller content providers and start-ups who do not participate.
The authors of "Connecting the world" suggest that connecting the majority of the world is more a question of affordability over infrastructure, especially in the developing world. China, Brazil and Indonesia, for example, all have 100 percent of their populations covered by internet-capable infrastructures, if most people could afford it.
For 66 percent of the world, a 500MB data plan costs more than 5 percent of their monthly income, according to U.K. newspaper The Guardian.
"The internet holds the potential to transform the lives of millions in developing markets, but enabling access for all is a major development challenge. Internet access needs to become more affordable and reliable," said Ashley Unwin, UK and EMEA consulting leader at PwC.
Replacing current networks with 3G or 4G could bring a 60 - 70 percent reduction in the cost per MB to serve developing markets, making it profitable for operators to provide internet services, and opening up the internet to over 2 billion people.
Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.