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Millions of city-dwellers still lack broadband connections

A study by the Wireless Broadband Alliance has found that over half of the global urban population are unconnected, including many in some of the world’s wealthiest cities

The majority of city-dwellers worldwide still lack a broadband connection, according to a research study conducted by Maravedis Rethink on behalf of wireless network association the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA).

The report, compiled to mark the inaugural World Wi-Fi Day on 20 June 2016, set out to identify the extent of the digital divide in both developed and developing economies. It found that 57% of the global urban population was unconnected, with over one-third of those living in some of the world’s wealthiest cities.

The number of what the WBA termed “urban unconnected” was found to be highest in the Middle East and Africa at 82%, and Asia Pacific (Apac) at 68%. In Latin America, 55% of city-dwellers were getting by without broadband.

However, even though the digital divide split predictably along global economic fault-lines, the report also found that 17% of European city-dwellers were unconnected, and 23% of North Americans lacked internet access.

The most connected city was found to be London, with only 8% unconnected – although that still added up to more than 600,000 people living in the capital – compared to the least connected city, Lagos in Nigeria, where 88.3% of people are not online.

“There is a clear divide between the digital haves and the digital have-nots,” said Shrikant Shenwai, WBA CEO. “And while this divide generally mirrors socioeconomic trends around the world, there are surprisingly high levels of urban unconnected citizens in major cities.

“World Wi-Fi Day is an opportunity to recognise the contributions being made to help connect the unconnected around the globe, whether they be in major cities or rural communities.

“We are therefore calling on cities, governments, operators and technology companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, to come together today to help deliver affordable, sustainable connectivity for everyone, everywhere.”

The WBA said the lack of urban connectivity resulted from a number of technological and political challenges, including low income and high costs of getting online, whether via a fixed or mobile connection, as well as factors such as age and wider computer literacy.

World Wi-Fi Day

The logic behind World Wi-Fi Day is to promote the benefits of wireless broadband and champion some of the more innovative solutions being made available to bridge the gap.

A number of organisations have committed to take part around the world, including BT, Proximus in Belgium and KPN in the Netherlands.

The WBA has also launched a city Wi-Fi roaming initiative, which will run throughout July and August, offering travellers the ability to roam between public networks in cities including New York, San Francisco, San Jose and Singapore.

Read more about public Wi-Fi

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“Affordable and sustainable broadband connectivity within cities is an absolute must,” said Reza Jafari, chairman and CEO of the Connected City Advisory Board (CCAB), which is also backing the event. “Not only is it helping citizens today, but connectivity will be the key to transforming and improving the development of cities around the world in years to come.

“In order to make Connected Cities a reality, we need the industry to come together and realise this vision. This is why we are backing World Wi-Fi Day, to help celebrate the work that has taken place, but also to stress the need to continue to broaden the availability of Wi-Fi access.”

Read more on Wireless networking

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