GENEVA, 16th September, 2016 (WAM) – By the end of 2016, 3.5 billion people will be using the Internet, up from 3.2 billion last year, which would be equivalent to 47 per cent of the global population, according to a new report of a United Nations (UN) commission.

The Republic of Korea has the world’s highest household Internet penetration (98.8 percent), followed by Qatar (96 percent), and United Arab Emirates (95 percent); Iceland has the highest percentage of individuals using the Internet (98.2 percent), followed by Luxembourg (97.3 percent), and Andorra (97 percent), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialised UN agency, said in a news release today featuring the salient points of the report.

Even though China and India are now the largest Internet markets on the planet, they are also among the six countries that together account for 55 per cent of the global ‘offline’ population. Furthermore, 20 countries including United States (US), China and India make up almost three-fourths of the world population not using the Internet, the annual report noted.

“These findings suggest that targeted efforts in just a few key markets could help enormously in redressing the gaping ‘digital divide’ between those who are online and those still offline,” the ITU report said.

Released just ahead of the 14th meeting of the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, to be held on 18th September, 2016, in New York, the report “The State of Broadband 2016” also highlighted the potential of mobile broadband, with 165 countries now having deployed the 4th generation or ‘4G’ high-speed mobile networks.

“As smartphone penetration reaches near-saturation in the US, Europe and mature markets in Asia like Japan and [Democratic Republic of] Korea, India and Indonesia in particular are expected to drive future growth,” ITU added.

India, which overtook the US to become the world’s second largest Internet market (333 million users), also overtook that country to become the world’s second-largest smartphone market, with an estimated 260 million mobile broadband subscriptions, findings from the report also revealed.

Broadband connectivity and technology can play a very important role as enablers of development, according to Houlin Zhao, the Secretary-General of ITU, and Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who both co-vice chair the commission.

Recalling that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for education, gender equality and infrastructure include bold targets for information and communication technology, Zhao said, “The SDGs are achievable, but require urgent efforts and progress in the speed, degree and equality of development. The commission believes this can be realized through broadband.”

Similarly, Bokova noted, “Broadband technologies can be powerful development multipliers but this requires combined investments in access and in skills and in education.”

“This is about opening new paths to create and share knowledge. It is about enhancing freedom of expression and about widening learning opportunities, especially for girls and women. This is about developing content that is relevant, local and multilingual,” she added.

There are now 91 economies where over 50 per cent of the population is online, up from 79 in 2015, and the top 10 developing countries for household Internet penetration are all located in Asia or the Middle East, according to the findings in the report.