Committed to connecting the world


Digital inclusion of all

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Digital inclusion for all BCKGROUNDERWSIS Forum 2018 Photo Contest, Nagaland Tribe Connecting the World, India




Globally, over 1 billion new Internet users have been added over the last five years. Yet under half the world's people (3.7 billion) do not use the Internet. Many of them live in least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), and small island developing states (SIDS). 

According to the latest ITU data, 87% of people are using the Internet in developed countries, compared with 44% in developing countries.  

While virtually all urban areas in the world are covered by a mobile-broadband network, worrying gaps in connectivity and Internet access persist in rural areas. Globally, 72% of households in urban areas has access to the Internet at home, almost twice as much as in rural areas (38%). 

Connectivity gaps in rural areas are especially serious in LDCs, where 17% of the rural population live in areas with no mobile coverage at all, and 19% of the rural population is covered by only a 2G network. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing digital divides between and within countries related to age, disability, gender, geography and socioeconomic status. With many essential services pushed online, there is a real and present danger that those without broadband Internet access could be left ever further behind. 

For many people in the developing world, especially in LDCs, mobile telephony and Internet access remain unaffordable. The cost of broadband Internet access remains above the affordability target set by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development – namely, 2% of monthly gross national income (GNI) per capita for a number of LDCs. 

According to ITU's latest data, in 84 or nearly half of the analysed set of countries, the cost of the data-only mobile-broadband remains above the 2% target, while fixed broadband access is unaffordable in 111 countries (56%). 

This means that children and young people from the poorest households, rural and lower income states are falling even further behind their peers in terms of digital inclusion and are left with fewer opportunities to catch up, facing disproportionate exposure to poverty and unemployment. 

Assessing investment requirements to bring about affordable universal connectivity is important to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In some regions, bridging the connectivity gap means mainly upgrading existing coverage and capacity sites. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and East Asia/Pacific, nearly half of the necessary radio access network (RAN) infrastructure investments will be greenfield.


Extending the benefits of the new telecommunication technologies to all the world's inhabitants is at the core of ITU's work and mission. 

Efficient and affordable ICT infrastructure and services, combined with enabling policy and regulatory environments, enable businesses and governments to participate in the digital economy, helping countries boost their overall economic well-being and competitiveness. 

Competition, the global harmonization of mobile spectrum by ITU, together with the development of common international standards, have resulted in economies of scale and the reduction of prices of services and devices for both networks and end-users. 

Broadband Internet networks are vital national infrastructure. Mobile broadband services are usually cheaper and provide the most common means of access to the Internet and online services.

Active mobile-broadband subscription penetration rate per 100 inhabitants grew by nearly 13% from 2018 to 2019. 

Mobile technologies are migrating rapidly from 2G (second-generation of mobile technologies) to 3G to 4G and now 5G (IMT-2020). Between 2015 and 2020, 4G network coverage doubled globally and almost 85% of the global population was covered by a 4G network at the end of 2020. The roll-out of 5G networks has started and is advancing rapidly in a large number of countries.

ITU's contribution to including everyone, everywhere in a digital society

ITU works in all regions of the world and develops tailored programmes to allow everyone to access and use the Internet, especially by developing infrastructure for technologies and networks, and enhancing the regulatory and market environment. 

The ITU membership's Connect 2030 Agenda for Global Telecommunication/ICT Development sets out the shared vision, goals and targets that Member States have committed to achieve by 2030 in collaboration with all stakeholders across the ICT ecosystem. The agenda strives for five goals: 1) Growth – Enable and foster access to and increased use of telecommunications/ICT in support of the digital economy and society; 2) Inclusiveness – Bridge the digital divide and provide broadband access for all; 3) Sustainability – Manage emerging risks, challenges and opportunities resulting from the rapid growth of telecommunication/ICT; 4) Innovation – Enable innovation in telecommunications/ICT in support of the digital transformation of society; and 5) Partnerships – Strengthen cooperation among the ITU membership and all other stakeholders in support of all ITU strategic goals.  

Every four years, ITU convenes the World Radiocommunication Conference that reviews and updates the ITU Radio Regulations – the international treaty governing the global use of radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits. The regular updating of the treaty enables countries to explore innovative ways to promote access to affordable technologies. The WRC agenda includes identifying new technologies and innovations have a positive impact on the lives of billions of people around the world and help bridge the digital divide by ensuring more people can get connected and benefit from the growing range of digital services. 

ITU also convenes the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) every four years, to define the general policy direction of the ITU Standardization Sector, to adopt high-quality international standards in the ICT field, and to ensure an inclusive standardization process that can support growth and innovation across a wide range of industry sectors and overcome development divides. 

The World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) aims to help achieve the digital inclusion for all. ITU members and conference participants gather to discuss and consider topics, projects and programmes relevant to telecommunication development and to provide direction and guidance to the Telecommunication Development Sector. 

To enhance the ICT regulatory and market environment for the digital inclusion of all, ITU has been convening the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) every year since 2000. GSR brings together heads of national telecom/ICT regulatory authorities from around the world to share their views and experiences on the most pressing regulatory issues. Each GSR concludes with the adoption by regulators of a set of regulatory best practice guidelines. 

In addition, ITU collects ICT statistics for 200 economies and more than 100 indicators to better understand challenges and to benchmark and measure progress on Internet use and mobile cellular and mobile broadband networks. 

ITU raises awareness among consumers and policy-makers, and assists countries in developing the policies, legislation, regulations and business practices that promote the digital inclusion of all people. ITU carries out a range of work with governments, the private sector, civil society, academia and UN sister agencies and entities to reduce digital divides due to age, disability, gender, geography, skills and socioeconomic status:

Digital inclusion, regardless of age


Accessibility and overcoming disabilities: 


Reducing the gender digital divide: 

Connecting all communities, including indigenous peoples: 

Promoting digital skills:

Bringing more people online, regardless of their socioeconomic status:


Last update: April 2021​​