Is there a ceiling for Internet users?

Facebook and Netflix they find it difficult to recruit new people who want what they are offering. At least for now, the number of users is shrinking.

There are complex reasons for them growth breaksand we’ll learn more later today when Facebook’s parent company Meta releases its quarterly financial report. This edition of the newsletter talks about a challenge they and other internet companies around the world share: the untapped potential in the billions of people who aren’t online at all.

More than four in 10 people in the world, who work with more than three billion people, do not use the internet at home or on their phones, according to the latest version available estimates by the World Bank and the United Nations, since 2019.

In some of the most populated countries in the world, including Pakistan, Bangladesh Other Nigeriamost people are not online.

Even after a Great increase in online access in India in recent years, about 60 per cent of Indians do not use the Internet. Nearly half of the people in Indonesia, the fourth largest country in the world, aren’t even online. For comparison, about 10% of Americans and a quarter of Brazilians are not online.

The world of technology is not ignoring the gap between those who have and those who do not have the Internet, and the number of people who are disconnected is narrowing. But as digital services strive to capture even more users, their ambitions are held back by the fact that so many are still offline or have poor service that prevents them from bingeing on Netflix, browsing YouTube, or scrolling madly on Instagram.

there is no silver bullet to the complex economic, cultural, technical and political barriers to bring more citizens of the world online. Proponents of the expansion of internet use say that being connected is an economic engine and increasingly a necessity of modern life. An internet connection is also a minimum condition for internet companies to reach potential customers.

I’m not saying that if 100 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people suddenly used the internet, they would all become Netflix subscribers. Now that Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix may be close to saturation in the US, they have all made India a priority. But their growth is limited because they can only reach the roughly 600 million Indians who are online.

(A note on China, which has the world’s largest concentration of internet users: The country blocks many popular foreign digital services, making China out of reach for Netflix, Facebook, Google, and others.)

Ana Maria Rodriguez, research analyst with the advocacy group the Affordable Internet Alliancesaid official online user figures may drastically underestimate how many people don’t have regular internet access, can’t afford to go online often, have poor service, or a combination of these.

He said the World Bank and the United Nations regarded an internet user as anyone who has gone online at least once in the past three months. With their figures, two thirds of people in Colombia were online starting from 2019. But Research of the Alliance for Affordable Internet found that only a quarter of Colombians had “significant” access, which included consistent online connections at relatively high speeds.

Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other tech companies and executives have various plans to expand internet access or customize their apps for countries where millions of people could go online for the first time. Rodriguez, whose group receives funding from technology companies, said doing even more could help billions of people and companies’ profits.

“It is in their best interest to reach these people,” Rodriguez told me, referring to global Internet companies.

When I first started writing about technology more than a decade ago, I regularly asked executives if there was a limit to their growth because so many people weren’t online and the service stank for many people, too. in rich countries like the United States I have a lot of empty stars.

Perhaps they were right not to make this a top priority. Many more people were connected in those years and the internet service has improved in most countries. Facebook and Spotify are not experts in building mobile internet towers or breaking down the social and financial obstacles to getting more people online.

But we are entering a period where easy growth has disappeared for many successful internet companies. To continue reaching more people, they may have to think differently about the billions that have yet to be connected.