The new edition of the Inclusive Internet Index revealed a healthy increase in internet access since last year, amid expanding 4G coverage and falling mobile costs.

Compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Facebook, the Index provides an international benchmark of internet inclusion across four categories: availability, affordability, relevance and readiness. Its aim is to measure the extent to which internet use promotes positive social and economic outcomes.

Among the 70 countries included in both the 2017 and 2018 Indices, the average percentage of households connected to the internet grew by 44.9 per cent to 48.6 per cent, an 8.3 per cent increase. Progress on this front was fastest among low-income countries included in the Index, where the average percentage of connected households increased from 8.0 per cent to 13.2 per cent, a 65.1 per cent improvement.

The Index also identified rapid expansion in the availability of mobile internet services. Coverage of 4G mobile services grew significantly, especially in countries including Guatemala, where it grew 3,935.0 per cent, and Indonesia (658.8 per cent).

Meanwhile, the average price of a 500MB prepaid mobile broadband data plan as a percentage of monthly income fell from nearly 3.3 per cent last year to 2.9 per cent in 2018, an improvement of 10.1 per cent.

Enhancements to the measurement of the gender gap in internet access prevent year-on-year comparisons, but it is inarguably still too high: among the countries included in the Index, the proportion of men that access the Internet is, on average, 33.5 per cent higher than the proportion of women.

Among low-income countries, the gender gap is 80.2 per cent in favour of men. But a number of low-income countries, including Nepal, Malawi, and Mozambique, stand out for policies designed to promote internet inclusion among women and girls, specifically digital skills training and STEM education.

The 2018 Index is accompanied by a new Value of the Internet survey, which canvassed 4,267 internet users across 85 countries to assess the impact it has on their lives. The survey reveals that the internet is a source of empowerment, especially to citizens in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Just under six in ten respondents in the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia agree that the “use of the internet has helped me become more independent”.

The survey, however, also reveals that privacy and security concerns are limiting internet use, especially in Europe. In all, 85 per cent of respondents say privacy concerns have limited their use of the internet to some degree.

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