Facebook and Netflix find it difficult to recruit new people who want what they offer. At least for the time being, their user numbers are shrinking.
There are complex reasons for this growth slack, and we’ll learn more later today when Meta, Facebook’s parent company, releases its quarterly financial report. This issue of the newsletter addresses a challenge she and other global internet companies share: the untapped potential of billions of people who aren’t online at all.
According to the latest available data, more than four out of ten people in the world, which is more than three billion people, do not use the internet at home or on their phones estimates by the World Bank and the United Nations, as of 2019.
Even after one large increase in online access in India in recent years, around 60 percent of Indians do not use the Internet. Also in Indonesia – the fourth largest country in the world – almost half of the people are not online. For comparison, about 10 percent of Americans and a quarter of Brazilians are not online.
The tech world isn’t ignoring the divide between internet haves and haves, and the number of people who aren’t connected is shrinking. But as digital services scramble to attract even more users, their ambitions are hampered by the fact that so many are still offline or have subpar service that prevents you from cramming yourself into Netflix, surfing YouTube, or sifting through Instagram like crazy scrolls.
There is no silver bullet to the complex economic, cultural, technological and political barriers to getting more of the world online. Advocates of expanding internet use say that connectivity is an economic engine and increasingly a necessity of modern life. An internet connection is also a minimum requirement for internet businesses to reach potential customers.
I’m not saying that if 100 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people suddenly started using the internet, they would all become Netflix subscribers. Now that Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix may be near saturation in the US, they have all made India a priority. But their growth is limited because they can only reach the approximately 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 inaccessible to Netflix, Facebook, Google, and others.)
Ana Maria Rodriguez, research analyst at advocacy group the Alliance for Affordable Internetsaid official numbers of online users may drastically underestimate how many people don’t have regular access to the internet, can’t afford to go online often, have poor service, or a combination of these.
She said the World Bank and the UN counted an internet user as anyone who had gone online at least once in the past three months. by their numbers, Two-thirds of people in Colombia were online As of 2019. But research from the Alliance for Affordable Internet found that only a quarter of Colombians had “meaningful” access, which included consistent online connections at relatively high speeds.
Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other tech companies and executives have various projects to expand Internet access or adapt their apps for countries where millions of people may be going online for the first time. Rodriguez, whose group receives funding from tech companies, said it could help billions of people do more — and corporate profits.
“It’s in their interest to reach those 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 their growth was limited because so many people were offline and service actually stinks for many in rich countries like the United States I got a lot of blank stares.
Perhaps they were right not to prioritize the issue. In these years, many more people have been connected and internet service has improved in most countries. Facebook and Spotify aren’t experts at building mobile internet towers or tearing down social and financial barriers to getting more people online.
But we’re entering a time when easy growth is over for many successful Internet companies. To reach more and more people, they may need to think differently about the billions that still need to be connected.