The 2017 Mobile World Congress, which is from Feb. 27 to March 2 in Barcelona, is a major tech conference focusing on mobile connectivity. It’s attended by some of the world’s most influential thinkers and leaders in this space. At this year’s conference, the Economist Intelligence Unit (commissioned by Facebook) is launching The Inclusive Internet Index on Wednesday, March 1.
The index benchmarks the current state of global internet inclusion across 75 countries, which collectively represent approximately 90% of the world population and 90% of global GDP. It’ll be published on a microsite that’s open to the public—theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com.
So… why do we care? Well, the index provides incredibly useful (and previously not publically available) data about where people are and aren’t connected to the internet, and the factors contributing to that. In fact, a key recommendation in our Making the Connection report was to invest in open data on connectivity. This index partially delivers on that recommendation, so we want to celebrate that!
Given the amount of information the internet generates, it is surprisingly hard to find accurate and verifiable data on connectedness—especially at a subnational, gender-disaggregated level. The current data on internet connectivity in developing countries—particularly for women and girls—is too sparse to be useful. Technology companies actually have a wealth of data that could be used to supplement the gaps in gender data available from governments, but most of that data isn’t made public due to commercial confidentiality. However, agreements could be put in place where this data could be used while respecting the intellectual property of the company and the privacy of individual users.
Curious about some of the data in the index? Here are some points relevant to our work on universal internet access:
- Tanzania and Senegal are overall the best performing low-income countries when it comes to efforts to enable internet inclusion. Tanzania has focused its efforts on improving digital literacy, and in Senegal, they’ve focused on investments in mobile network infrastructure (digital literacy and infrastructure are both two recommendations from our report).
- Nigeria is a bright spot in breaking down the barrier of affordability for citizens—on this indicator, they’re actually number 12 in the world.
- That said, the index confirms there is still a lot of work left to do. Many people in poorer countries simply aren’t able to connect. For example, no African country appears in the top 25, and when you look at countries falling near the bottom, nearly all are low-income countries.
- Additionally, the index confirms there is a significant gender gap in lower-middle and low-income countries.
If resources are to be allocated and implemented in the best way, developing country governments must increase their collection of gender-disaggregated data, and technology and internet companies must make relevant data public. This index is a great first step toward the things we’re calling for to increase connectivity in the poorest countries, but we’re far from done.