facebook study

Facebook Study: How Connected Is Our World?

Global internet access continues to grow, but much of the planet still lives off the grid.

May 2016


facebook study

It’s easy for those of us who tap our phones for instant updates — the latest headlines, live game scores, friends’ social media posts — to think that the internet is everywhere.

But the fact is, the majority of our fellow global citizens aren’t connected to the internet. Even in the U.S., where the internet was born, people residing in many rural areas can’t access the digital realm, at least not easily.

A new study from Facebook looks at global online connectivity and sees evidence of improvement — and shows how much further the internet needs to go to be a global tool of information and commerce. According to “State of Connectivity 2015: A Report on Global Internet Access,” an estimated 3.2 billion people were online as of the end of last year. That’s up from 2.9 billion in 2014 — a reflection of rising incomes and more affordable access. At the same time, it means that the world’s other 4.1 billion people weren’t online in 2015.

What’s behind this lack of connectivity? The study identifies four main barriers.

  1. Availability
    This refers to the proximity of the necessary infrastructure required for access. The data-rich Facebook study calculates that at least 1.6 billion people live in areas where mobile broadband is not available. More than 90 percent of them live in the developing world, many in rural areas. And rural and remote areas are costly to cover, whether in Asian rainforests or North American ranchland. That has led companies such as Facebook, Google and others to experiment with nontraditional connectivity technologies such as balloons and drones.
  2. Affordability
    The Facebook study notes that almost 30 percent of the people in developing countries still live below the poverty line. While rising incomes and falling prices in recent years have helped improved online access, people in developing countries need to spend about twice as much on their mobile connections. And that doesn’t include the cost of buying a smartphone or tablet.
  3. Relevance
    There’s a language barrier in cyberspace. According to the report, Facebook can handle only 139 languages. That’s not at all bad: It means the social networking site can reach around 83 percent of users in their first or second languages. Still, the top 10 languages account for 89 percent of websites, and most sites are in English only. Speakers of the thousands of other world languages have no reason to access the internet — there’s no relevant content for them.
  4. Readiness
    A lack of access prevents millions across the globe from demanding online connectivity. As the Facebook study notes, “over two-thirds of the unconnected do not understand what the internet is.” Indeed, the report adds that 75 percent of the unconnected in Nigeria haven’t heard of the word.


Again, the screen is by no means all dim. The study found that connectivity has increased by approximately 200 million to 300 million people per year over the last decade. A good trend. But the growth also means that, in theory, it would take at least another 15 to 20 years to get everyone connected.

Here’s another way to look at the situation: It also represents a huge economic development opportunity. According to a February 2014 study from professional services firm Deloitte, “extending internet access to levels seen in developed countries today means that long-run productivity could be enhanced by as much as 25 percent in developing countries. Deloitte estimates that the resulting economic activity could generate $2.2 trillion in additional GDP, a 72 percent increase in the GDP growth rate, and more than 140 million new jobs.”

Facebook’s “State of Connectivity 2015” report details the investment the world’s governments, businesses and philanthropies need to make so that the World Wide Web truly is worldwide. See the study’s full results.

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