Understanding barriers to Internet adoption

Barriers to Internet adoption, McKinsey 2014; Statistics based on 2013 data

  • High

    Offline populations are young, rural, and have low literacy. Includes Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania
    556 million offline
    15% internet penetration

    Larger challenges in incentives and infrastructure; mixed demographics. Includes Egypt, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand
    1,424 million offline
    19% internet penetration

    Greatest challenge in incentives; rural and literate offline populations. Includes China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam
    802 million offline
    45% internet penetration

    Greatest challenge in low incomes and affordability; offline populations are predominantly urban, literate, and low income. Includes Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey
    257 million offline
    49% internet penetration
  • LOW

    Low barriers across the board; offline populations that are highly literate and disproportionately low income and female. Includes Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, the United States
    182 million offline
    78% internet penetration


Offline and falling behind: Barriers to Internet adoption

This broadly referenced report lists factors that enable and impede more than 60% of the global population from getting online:

  • Incentives: Lack of relevant (local or localized) content and services, and a lack of cultural or social acceptance
  • Low Income and Affordability: Poverty, expensive devices, high telecom fees
  • User Capability: Digital literacy and lack of digital trust
  • Infrastructure: Limited access to international bandwidth, an underdeveloped national core IT network, limited spectrum availability.

Digital divide: Improving Internet access in the developing world through affordable services and diverse content

The Brookings report discusses the factors that pose challenges to people in the developing world when try connect to the Internet.

Brookings echoes the McKinsey report’s core pillars: poverty, poor infrastructure, policy, and operational barriers, and goes on to discuss specific solutions around resolving these challenges. These solutions assert that people need affordable services, diverse content, reasonable costs, reliable infrastructure, uncensored information, and local language translation.

Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption

The World Economic Forum report describes key issues in Internet adoption as infrastructure, affordability, skills, awareness and cultural acceptance, and local adoption and use. These issues are interdependent, and a single “one-size-fits-all” solution does not yet exist.

In addition to recommending comprehensive solutions, the report advises countries and regions to identify their unique challenges, and then tune a relevant course of action based on best practices.

About 4 Billion non-users


  • 15% of people around the globe have no electricity
  • 31% of people live outside 3G coverage


  • 13% of people live below the international poverty line
  • 29 Number of countries where broadband is affordable for 100% of the population once household incomes are taken into account


  • 15% of adults are considered illiterate
  • Women are up to 50% less likely to be connected


  • 80% of online content is only available in 1 of 10 languages, which only about three billion people speak as their first
  • 95% of survey participants in 12 developed and developing countries have used online government services

World Economic Forum, Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption, 2016