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Take off your rose-colored Google Glass Eric Schmidt: The entire world won’t have internet by 2020

Internet in India
AP Photo/Namas Bhojani
Willingness is one thing; accessibility is another.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

A couple of weeks ago, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt suggested on Twitter that everyone will be on the internet by 2020.

For every person online, there are two who are not. By the end of the decade, everyone on Earth will be connected. #NewDigitalAge

— Eric Schmidt (@ericschmidt) April 13, 2013

This tweet was part of the promotion for Schmidt’s new book, The New Digital Age, where he and co-author Jared Cohen assert that if the pace of technology is maintained, nearly 8 billion people will be on the internet by 2025.

Data show how blindingly fast we’re charging toward a time when the entire globe will be connected. In 1995, a scant 6 million people were online, and by 2005 the number was estimated to have reached 1 billion. Today, there are more than a billion users in Asia alone.

But there’s reason to think that complete connectivity is a longer ways off.

CNN’s Doug Gross wonders whether Schmidt’s assertion was too hopeful.

With poor and developing nations around the world isolated by crumbling or nonexistent Web infrastructures, and others hindered by factors ranging from remote geography to government censorship, is Schmidt’s vision overly optimistic?… Maybe. But don’t rule it out.

But there’s actually good reason to.

By 2020, we’ll get to a point of complete connectivity for a good deal of the globe—most likely for North America and Europe, and countries like Israel and Japan. But expecting to concurrently solve the infrastructural shortcomings that have left countries like India in the dust will prevent the feat from occurring so soon.

It takes only three charts to spell out how far behind some of the world still is:

Asia and Africa have the world’s largest populations by continent, and the smallest percentage of people online

India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have over 1.5 billion people, but only 11% of them are online 

And in Ethiopia and D.R. Congo, Africa’s second and fourth most populous nations, 99% of people don’t have internet access

It’s easy to get caught up in the hyper-connected bubble of developed countries, but the vast majority of the world still lives in cities and towns struggling to provide necessities as basic as clean tap water. If countries like Ethiopia cannot properly feed their population, how can they reasonably expect to concentrate on getting them all a Gmail account?

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