A monthly series from the Web Foundation

Covid-19 shows the web is not a luxury. It is a lifeline.

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Imagine living through the Covid-19 pandemic without access to the web.

True isolation, without a video connection to loved ones. No streaming movies, online workouts, and virtual concerts to keep you entertained. No glory in the online pub quiz.

Think about how much harder it would be to stay safe and healthy without the latest advice at your fingertips. And the difficult choices we’d face if we couldn't work or learn from home.

What feels impossible for many is the reality for nearly half of the world. Today, 3.5 billion people remain unconnected, cut off as the world has shut down and gone online. And many more lack the quality of connection they need to use the full power of the web.

Here, we untangle the persistent digital divides that exist around the world — and what we must do to get everyone, everywhere meaningfully connected.

The digital divide, in numbers
Only 54% of the global population is connected today. People in poorer regions, women, elderly people, and those living in remote and rural areas are far less likely to be online (ITU)
The web is a lifeline that over 3.5 billion people across the globe can't access (ITU)
Men are 21% more likely to be online than women — rising to 52% in the world's least developed countries (Web Foundation / Inclusive Internet Index)
Across Africa, only 1 in 4 people have access to the internet (ITU)
In New York City, nearly a third of households lack a home broadband subscription (NYC Mayor's Office of the Chief Technology Officer)
87% of US adults say the internet has been essential or important during the Covid-19 pandemic (Pew Research)

We’re not only facing a global health pandemic. We also have a catastrophic digital divide threatening to deepen offline inequalities.


Internet access is a basic right. We must get everyone connected.

The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the human cost of the digital divide that persists across the globe.

With the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), we have recommended steps for governments, companies and civil society to bring people online as quickly as possible. These include: 

🏛  Governments

💼  Service providers

🗣 Citizens
  • Speak out for those who are offline — and put pressure on governments and companies to take action

Getting internet access for everyone is one the most pressing digital challenges of our time. Now more than ever, we must double down on our efforts so everyone, everywhere has access to the web as a lifeline.

Read the policy brief
Ensuring the web works for everyone at this moment

The web is one of the most powerful tools we have to tackle this global health crisis together.

Learn more about our efforts to ensure the web serves humanity at this moment.

📝 President and CEO Adrian Lovett explains how the web can do more in the fight against Covid-19

📄 Our policy brief on misinformation outlines the steps that governments, companies and citizens must take to fight viral Covid-19 conspiracy theories, rumours, and false claims

🌐 A4AI members are keeping people connected during this crisis
Resources to explore
✏️  Official figures mask the scale of America’s internet inequality problem, writes US Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Jessica Rosenworcel (CNN)

📰   A Guardian editorial says the pandemic shows the internet access should be treated like a public utility, and reviews our recommendations to bring affordable and meaningful connectivity to all

🎯  Without urgent action, we will miss global targets to get everyone connected, analysis from Web Foundation Senior Research Manager Carlos Iglesias finds

📄  Access Now outlines how governments and telecoms companies can expand connectivity to fight Covid-19

🎧   Web Foundation Research Director Dhanaraj Thakur spoke to BBC Tech Tent about what we must do to connect the unconnected

🌍  Web Foundation Research Manager for Gender and Digital Rights Chenai Chair spoke to Deutsche Welle about the disparities in internet access across Africa

🚘  The New York Times’ Cecilia Kang writes about people in the US camped out in their cars, desperate to connect to nearby WiFi hotspots

📊  Capgemini Research Institute's new report looks at how bridging the digital divide could boost social and economic equality

💻  A4AI Executive Director Sonia Jorge and Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean Yacine Khelladi spoke to DPL News about how the digital gender gap has left women cut off from critical information during this crisis (Spanish)

🛑  TIME Magazine interviews doctors in Kashmir struggling to treat patients because they are forced to rely on slow 2G speeds to access the latest coronavirus health advice due to continued restrictions on 4G access
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