Today, access to the internet is a basic need. The COVID-19 pandemic compounded this need and made the requirement for online access all too clear. Everyone needs a minimum internet package to connect with their loved ones, check and write emails (e.g., to apply for a job), read the news, or fill out forms required for standard administrative procedures.

The concept of “minimum internet needs” builds on the global definition of poverty and links to the World Bank’s World Development Report of 1990, when it created the $1 a day per person definition of extreme poverty as a minimum level of spending needed to meet basic human needs. Since then, the global community has measured extreme poverty in all its forms, leading to ever more sophisticated research on the causes and consequences of poverty, as well as on pathways to end it. One recent highlight of this new poverty research was the awarding of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2019 to Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee, and Michael Kremer for their experimental approach to analyzing poverty. This approach has led to significant improvements in the design of efficient policies to combat economic deprivation.

A person is considered internet poor if s/he cannot afford a minimum quantity (1 GB) and quality (10 Mbps download speed) of internet services without spending more than 10 percent of his or her disposable income on these services. This minimum package of internet services would allow a person to fulfill basic needs, such as accessing emails, reading the news, or using government e-services. The core methodology of internet poverty was initially presented in mid-2021 and has undergone additional enhancements to identify the number of internet poor in almost all countries.

World Data Lab’s just-launched Internet Poverty Index can now adjust the actual cost of internet services in every country to estimate what a standard mobile internet package of 1 GB at 10 MB/second would cost in that country. It then computes how many people in the country could afford such a package. If the cost of the standardized package is above 10 percent of a person’s total spending, the person is considered internet poor. This allows us to create global estimates and share the number of people living in internet poverty globally, with disaggregations available by gender.

Read the full article about internet poverty by internJesús Crespo Cuaresma, Katharina Fenz, Marianne Nari Fisher, and Homi Kharas at Brookings.