It is estimated that 37 percent of the global population, around 2.9 billion people, has never used the internet, according to data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency within the United Nations.
Despite this figure, the ITU has seen a strong growth in internet use across the world. The predicted number of those who have been online has risen to 4.9 billion in 2021, up from 4.1 billion in 2019.
The atypical uptick in internet users is likely attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic and campaigns throughout the pandemic during lockdowns to engage with people by getting them online.
That brought an estimated 782 million more internet users, increasing connectivity by 17 percent from 2019, stated the ITU.
Of the people who remain disconnected from the Internet, 96 percent live in developing nations. And even though 4.9 billion people are internet users, the ITU stated that millions of them likely use the internet less frequently than those in developed countries and may use the internet at a disadvantageous speed compared with those in wealthier nations.
"While almost two-thirds of the world's population is now online, there is a lot more to do to get everyone connected to the Internet," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, per the ITU press release. "ITU will work with all parties to make sure that the building blocks are in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion. We are determined to ensure no one will be left behind."
The internet has been an essential tool for Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in early 2020.
A Pew Research Center poll released in September showed that 90 percent of Americans said the internet has been essential to them or important to them during the pandemic.
Eighty-one percent of Americans also said they had spoken with others via video calls since the pandemic began in February 2020, according to Pew.