Internet is growing, but offline users are falling behind: McKinsey

On India, specifically, the report acknowledged that Internet penetration is poised to continue growing at a rapid pace, particularly due to the rapid uptake of mobile Internet. Photo,: Mint

The worldwide Internet user population was around 2.7 billion in 2013, with 1.8 billion of them joining since 2004. The growth was fuelled by the expansion of mobile network coverage and increasing mobile Internet adoption, urbanization, shrinking device and data plan prices, a growing middle class, and the increasing utility of the Internet.

At the current pace, an additional 500-900 million people are forecast to join the online population by 2017. Yet, these gains will still leave up to 4.2 billion people offline, according to a report titled Offline and falling behind: Barriers to Internet adoption, by consulting firm McKinsey and Co.

Due to the Internet's potential to improve the lives of individuals, drive business growth and accelerate the economic development of countries, its absence has profound implications for the billions who are still offline as well as for the broader world community.

Those who do not or simply cannot go online increasingly suffer from constrained prospects for economic attainment, class mobility, education and other areas related to quality of life.

The McKinsey report, released on Wednesday, examines the barriers that the offline population, defined as those who have not used the Internet (from any device) in the past 12 months, faces in adopting the Internet.

The report notes that the rate of growth of worldwide Internet users slowed from a three-year compounded annual growth rate of 15.1% in 2005-08 to 10.4% in 2009-2013. Without a significant change in technology, in income growth or in the economics of access, or policies to spur Internet adoption, the rate of growth will continue to slow, the report said.

As the Internet becomes even more embedded in every facet of our lives, costs of the digital divide will mount, and we risk leaving substantial portions of the global population at a disadvantage that they might never overcome, the report added.

On India, specifically, the report acknowledged that the country is home to the third-largest online population in the world (behind China and the US), and Internet penetration is poised to continue growing at a rapid pace, particularly due to the rapid uptake of mobile Internet. It added that for India's Internet user growth to be more inclusive, significant challenges-including the lack of basic infrastructure, low quality of coverage, uneven distribution of wealth and lagging human capital development--will need to be overcome.

However, progress is being made in each of these areas, and India also stands to benefit from its relatively young median age, penchant for going mobile, urbanization and rising income levels, the report said.


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