June 20th, 2016, marked this year’s World WiFi Day and the Wireless Broadband Alliance revealed some surprising facts about global connectivity: more than 2.2 billion people living in cities worldwide have no access to broadband – about 57% of the world’s urban population. More than a third of those – 37% to be precise – live in the world’s richest cities. Meanwhile, the Middle East and Africa, some of the world’s poorer populations, had the highest percentage of ‘urban unconnected’ – some 515 million without access to high speed internet. Bringing together the facts and figures from the independent study commissioned by the Wireless Broadband Alliance, and other data sources (listed below), we discover disparities in availability and affordability of good internet connections in 15 of the world’s biggest cities.
Using the framework of availability vs. affordability developed by Ericsson’s Networked Society City Index (where availability is determined by percentage of homes with internet access, fiber optic penetration, high speed mobile internet availability and the number of WiFi hotspots, and affordability takes into account broadband and mobile broadband prices as a percentage of GDP per capita and median IP transit prices per MBPS. Surprisingly, large global cities including London, Los Angeles and Shanghai are lagging behind counterparts New York, Tokyo and Paris, in terms of availability. These relatively low figures can be attributed to delays in fiber optic roll-outs and less free WiFi hotspots.
Meanwhile, New York and Los Angeles have a surprising amount of unconnected people in their cities, with a quarter of people living without internet access. Both cities have high levels of homelessness and urban poverty which might be a contributing factor. Meanwhile, most cities with the most unconnected populations tend to be the ones with the most expensive broadband services, proving that availability and infrastructure is not the only barrier. However, an interesting comparison can be drawn between Delhi and Shanghai: both cities have a 58% broadband penetration rate, however the average income for an internet subscriber in Delhi is just USD $400 while in Shanghai it’s USD $1800, despite the Chinese city’s higher availability credentials. While cost of living is famously low in India, cheaper accessibility to internet can be attributed to the country’s huge off-shoring IT and customer service industries which rely on connectivity.
London tops the list of connected urban populations, with broadband penetration reaching a massive 92%, lagging behind several cities in terms of availability, despite comparable affordability rates.