An estimated 37% of the world's population, or 2.9 billion people, are still offline, while a record 4.9 billion people have used the internet in 2021, a new UN report said Tuesday.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency for information and communication technologies, revealed strong global growth in internet use.
The estimated number of people who have used the internet surged to 4.9 billion in 2021, from 4.1 billion in 2019.
"The latest ITU data show that uptake of the internet has accelerated during the (COVID-19) pandemic," says the annual ITU report.
In 2019, the internet was used by 4.1 billion people, or 54% of the world's population.
Internet users surge
Since then, the number of users has surged by 800 million to reach 4.9 billion people in 2021 or 63% of the global population.
Of the 2.9 billion people still being offline, an estimated 96% live in developing countries, said the ITU.
And even among the 4.9 billion people counted as "internet users," many hundreds of millions may only have access to the internet on a limited basis, said the ITU.
Such online users often connect via shared devices or using connectivity speeds that significantly restrict the use of their connection.
"While almost two-thirds of the world's population is now online, there is a lot more to do to get everyone connected to the internet," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.
While the access divide is close to being bridged, with 95% of the world's population now living within range of a mobile broadband network, important blind spots remain, said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.
Close to 30% of Africa's rural population still lacks mobile broadband coverage.
"We can't close the digital divide if we can't measure it, and we cannot connect the unconnected if we don't know who they are, where they live, and why they remain offline," said Bogdan-Martin at a UN press conference.
She said even though the vast majority of the world's population could access the internet through mobile broadband, less than two-thirds use it.
Bogdan-Martin said there is a generational divide, with 71% of the world's population aged 15-24 is using the internet, compared to 57% of all other age groups.
"And gender remains a factor: globally, 62% of men use the internet compared with 57% of women.
"While that digital gender divide has been narrowing across all regions, women remain digitally marginalized in many of the world's poorest countries, where online access could potentially have its most powerful effect," said the ITU official./agencies