The 2018 Inclusive Internet Index
Earlier this year, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published the Inclusive Internet Index 2018. Now in its second year, the Index analyzes and compares the current state of the Internet across 86 countries, ranging from advanced to developing economies and covering 91% of the world’s population. Its key objective is to help policymakers understand the key factors necessary for the wide, inclusive use of the Internet in their respective countries.
Countries are evaluated based on 54 indicators organized around four major categories:
- Availability, which captures the quality of breadth of the infrastructure available for Internet access, including network availability, access points for landline and mobile connections, and the basic electricity infrastructure needed to support Internet connectivity in urban and rural areas.
- Affordability, which measures the cost of Internet access relative to income, the competitive environment for wireless and broadband operators and the measures taken to decrease costs and promote access.
- Relevance, which looks at the availability of Internet content in the local language(s) and the value of being connected to get access to relevant services like news, entertainment, health advice and business and financial information.
- Readiness, which examines the capacity to take advantage of accessing the Internet, including level of literacy, educational attainment, cultural acceptance, privacy and security, and trust in the sources of online information.
Each country is assigned a score for each of the four categories, as well as an overall index score.
Sweden, Singapore, the US, Denmark and South Korea had the highest overall Index scores. Not surprisingly, these are all high-income countries. Congo (DRC), Malawi, Madagascar, Liberia and Burkina Faso had the lowest scores. The US was third overall behind Sweden and Singapore. It was only second to Canada in Affordability, but ranked particularly low, 21st, in Readiness because of low trust in online content.
Chile is ranked 7th overall, - the top-ranked country in Latin America. It ranked 2nd in Relevance and Readiness, but only 28th in Availability because of poor network coverage and quality. Chile also showed the highest year-to-year improvement, going from 19th in 2017 to 7th in 2018. Poland also showed significant improvement, rising from 13th place in 2017 to 8th. It has a high Relevance score due to the quality of its local online content.
Internet connectivity grew 8.3% over the past year, with a 65.1% increase in low-income countries. “In the 70 countries included in both the 2017 and 2018 indices, the percentage of households connected to the Internet increased on average from 44.9% to 48.6%.”
The mobile Internet gap between the rich and poor is shrinking. “The availability of mobile Internet services is an especially vital component of inclusion in low-income countries, where fixed-line Internet access is expensive or inaccessible.”
The gender gap in Internet inclusion is still far too pervasive. “On average across the indexed countries, men are 33.5% more likely to have Internet access than women, and this gap is substantially more pronounced in lower-income countries. More men have access to the Internet than women in 69 out of the 86 countries included in the index.”
Internet use is empowering, especially to citizens in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. “More than half of Internet users surveyed report that it has helped them to become more independent (53.9%)… Internet access is viewed as far more than a convenience or a utility; 67.1% of survey respondents believe that access to the Internet should be a ‘human right’.”
Privacy and security concerns are limiting the use of the Internet, especially in Europe. “Less than half of respondents worldwide feel at least ‘somewhat’ confident that their activity online is private… In all, 85.2% of respondents say privacy concerns have limited their use of the Internet, while 46.3% say the same of security fears.”
The 2018 Index shows that the Internet is becoming more inclusive for more of the world’s population. To learn what this means for the lives of those included, the EIU conducted a global Value of the Internet Survey, which canvassed over 4,200 respondents to qualitatively explore the Internet’s impact on its users.
The survey showed that the Internet has been a source of empowerment. Over half say that it’s helped them become more independent. The majority of respondents (56%) also say that the Internet has been a help in their ability to earn money. Almost three quarter have used the Internet to look for work, both to find open positions with traditional employers as well as to participate in the on demand or gig economy. Beyond the economic benefits, nearly half say that the Internet has helped them consider life’s goals and given them confidence to express themselves.
But, while the majority of Internet users are positive about its impact on their lives, most also have serious reservations. A clear majority (85%) of survey respondents have privacy concerns, just under half expressed security fears, and only 62% feel that online purchases are safe.
Both the index and survey confirm that Internet inclusion is still a work in progress. Wealthier countries and wealthier individuals within countries accrue significantly more benefits. In addition, there’s still a serious gender gap of 33% in favor of men. This is a particular problem in low-income countries where the proportion of men using the Internet is 80% higher than that of women, compared to a 4% gap in high-income countries.
“The ability to participate in the Internet is not a luxury,” notes the Economist Intelligence Unit in the reports’s conclusion. “As governments and companies rush to do more and more online, the question of Internet inclusion becomes critical to ensure the gains are universally available and equally shared. The unequal ability of people to harness the benefits of the economic, social and civic benefits of the Internet will compound over time. If disadvantaged segments of society draw more limited benefits from Internet usage, because it is slow, unreliable or irrelevant to their needs, they will fall further behind.”
“The 2018 index shows positive trend-lines: Internet access is increasing, the quality of services is improving and the costs are coming down. The survey also shows that all of this is directly affecting people’s autonomy and empowerment. The task ahead for governments, companies and citizens is to work together to close the many gaps - whether income, region, gender or any other demographic trait - to ensure the Internet is, as its first founders envisioned, a truly open sphere.”