FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 15

World Internet Index: Pakistan lags behind

For the past three years, Facebook in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has been publishing the Inclusive Internet Index (3i) that assesses a country’s internet outreach and inclusivity. The assessment is based on four criteria, namely availability, affordability, relevance and readiness.

This year, the Index was expanded to include 100 countries, representing 94% of the world’s population and 96% of global GDP. In addition, the 3i study is again accompanied by a Value of the Internet Survey, which polled 5,069 respondents from 99 countries to gauge perceptions on how internet use impacts people’s lives and livelihood.

Last year’s finding was that the world was still far from achieving full internet inclusivity, while this year’s 3i study shows mixed progress. This year, the study revealed limited progress on closing the digital divide. In contrast to previous years, the gap between the lowest income countries and all others widened. Although the overall gap between those with access to the internet and those without narrowed – because of progress on access, quality of coverage, and affordability – the lowest income countries fell behind because they improved at a slower rate than other countries and much slower than last year.

Internet connections in low-income countries increased by only 0.8% compared to 65.1% last year. If this stalling of progress indicates a trend, this would require greater focus and cooperation among all the stakeholders, including the private sector and policymakers.

On the positive side, this year’s 3i study found that inclusion for women and those with disabilities has improved, with low-income and lower-middle-income countries driving progress. However, affordability is declining relative to monthly income in many countries, disproportionately affecting women and people in low-income countries, all of whom are more reliant on mobile as their primary means of accessing the internet.

Among other things, this year’s index and survey found that while the percentage of households connected to the internet globally increased from 53.1% to 54.8%, the rate of growth in internet connections slowed to 2.9% in 2019 from 7.7% in 2018. The largest year-over-year increases were in Cameroon (106.7%), Kenya (34.3%) and Kuwait (28.3%).

Mobile internet services improved, but many low-income countries are seeing slow progress: In some countries, fixed-line internet access is too expensive or inaccessible — that’s why mobile services are critical. This year’s 3i reveals that, while lower-middle-income countries had a significant 66% improvement in 4G coverage, low-income countries saw a moderate 22% improvement. Low- and lower-middle-income countries narrowed the gender gap: Men are more likely to have internet access than women in 84% of the indexed countries. However, in a positive trend in 2018, low- and lower-middle-income countries drove progress to narrow the gender gap. The UK, Namibia, and Ireland, followed by Austria, Chile, and South Africa, are among the top performers of the year, all with female digital skills training plans.

Privacy is a major issue. But despite privacy concerns, the internet is crucial for employment and improving livelihood: Carrying over from last year’s findings, more than half (52.2%) of respondents say they are not confident about their online privacy. Yet the majority of respondents (74.4%) think the internet has been the most effective tool for finding jobs. Additionally, 60.2% of respondents say the online education platforms and digital education technologies have helped them pursue an education and 76.5% have used the internet to improve their skills in changing labor markets.

Preventing a digital divide and closing the remaining gaps in internet inclusion will require collaboration between governments, the private sector, academics, technologists and civil society. Governments can help on the supply side with policies enabling new technologies, new business models and investment in high quality networks; and on the demand side, by facilitating affordability and helping foster eGov, public health and education applications. With enabling policies in place, the private sector can continue to extend internet infrastructure and explore new technologies and applications that drive demand and give more people access to the benefits of the internet.

Pakistan has been ranked 76th out of 100 countries on the inclusive internet index 2020. On a scale of one (best) to 100 (worst), Pakistan stood at the 76th place out of the total countries surveyed. According to the EIU, in 2020 Pakistan falls into the last quartile of the global internet index countries overall, and it ranks 24th out of 26 Asian countries.

Among the four dimensions considered for the ranking — availability, affordability, relevance and readiness — Pakistan showed poor performance in all areas, the worst being in the availability category. In terms of availability — a category that examines the quality and breadth of available infrastructure required for access and levels of internet usage — Pakistan ranked 86th out of 100.

The country fared relatively better on affordability (57th) that is described as the cost of access relative to income and the level of competition in the internet marketplace. In terms of readiness — measured on the basis of access to the internet, including skills, cultural acceptance, and supporting policy — the country ranked 64th. Finally, Pakistan stood 71st on relevance, which is the existence and extent of local language content and relevant content.

Looking at South Asia, Pakistan ranked the lowest, Bangladesh at 70th, Sri Lanka at 56 and India on the 46th spot. The first country ranked in this year’s index is Sweden, followed by New Zealand and the United States. Australia and Denmark both ranked fourth, followed by South Korea, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Spain. Among the global worst are Burundi at 100th, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi and Burkina Faso.