Global web access rises to 40% but over 4bn still unconnected

By the end of the year, approximately 40 per cent of the globe will be online, but approximately 4.4 billion people will remain unconnected, according to a report from the United Nations.

The UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has released its annual report, which charts Internet connectivity around the world. In 2012, 250 million more people started using the web, and the ITU estimates that 2.7 billion people will have Internet access by the end of this year.

Internet-connected mobile gadgets have helped boost web access. By the end of the year, there will be 6.8 billion total mobile-cellular subscriptions – almost as many as there are people on the planet, the ITU said.

Among the countries that have seen the greatest growth in Internet access is the United Arab Emirates, which ranked in 33rd place in 2012 and is now in 12th spot. Lebanon also jumped from 52nd to ninth, while Barbados climbed from 29th to seventh.

Also on the list for "most improved" were the Seychelles, Belarus, Costa Rica, Mongolia, and Zambia. Some regions, however, are still struggling - most notably in Africa and parts of the Middle East.

"This year's IDI (ICT Development Index) figures show much reason for optimism, with governments clearly prioritizing ICTs as a major lever of socio-economic growth, resulting in better access and lower prices," ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré said in a statement.

"Our most pressing challenge is to identify ways to enable those countries which are still struggling to connect their populations to deploy the networks and services that will help lift them out of poverty."

Landing in top spot for the third year in a row was the Republic of Korea, followed by Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and the UK. Rounding out the top 10 were Australia, Switzerland, the US, Germany, and Canada.