GENEVA, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Though nearly half the world's population is now online, some 3.9 billion people still do not have access to the Internet, rendering an ever growing digital gap worldwide, a latest UN report on broadband Internet says on Thursday.
The report, the State of Broadband 2017: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development, estimates by the end of 2017, some 3.58 billion people are to be online, equivalent to some 48 percent of the global population, up from 3.4 billion people or 45.9 percent at the end of 2016.
As nearly half the world's population is now connected, the attention has now shifted to where people still remain unconnected.
In the developing world, Internet penetration is projected to reach 41.3 percent by the end of 2017, up from 39 percent by end 2016, according to International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates, making Internet user penetration in developing countries unlikely to reach 50 percent in a similar timeframe. In comparison, Internet penetration in developed countries is to reach 81 percent, with the world average at 48 percent.
In the least developed countries, in particular, Internet user penetration is projected to reach only 17.5 percent in 2017, up from 15.6 percent in 2016, meaning it's highly unlikely that relevant targets in the UN sustainable development goals will be achieved within the timeframe of 2020.
Down to specific regions, around 62 percent of all people not online are residing in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by Africa with 17.8 percent. This is pertinent to the largest demographic distribution in the Asia-Pacific, where China and India, top two countries in population, contribute more than 362 million and 660 million people respectively to the unconnected population worldwide. It's also noteworthy that China continues to top the world's Internet market with around 700 million Internet users, followed by India with 355 million.
Meanwhile, the report shows that men continue to outnumber women in terms of Internet usage worldwide, despite the vice versa situation in the Americas. Recent studies, though, show the disparities in gender access are becoming wider in developing countries, especially in Africa.
"Broadband is crucial to connecting people to the resources needed to improve their livelihoods, and to the world achieving the Sustainable Development Goals," said ITU Secretary-General Zhao Houlin.
"The goals for education, gender equality and infrastructure include bold targets for information and communication technology. The State of Broadband 2017 report outlines how broadband is already contributing to this and makes valuable recommendations for how it can increase this contribution into the future," he added.
Promoting investment in broadband connectivity from a broad range of sectors, the report notes, can help achieve the full potential of these technologies and bring the world closer to the goal of an inclusive digital society accessible by all.