The Internet already plays an indispensable role in the everyday life of billions. Yet the surface is only being scratched. The potential to bring new and more advantages to individuals around the world, and to benefit billions more people as they gain access, has few limits. Many of these benefits could have their biggest impact in emerging markets; unfortunately, these are the countries in which Internet penetration and use often lag.
Almost 3 billion connected consumers and businesses (as well as governments and other organizations) search, shop, socialize, transact, and interact every day using personal computers and, increasingly, a broadening range of mobile devices. The digital economy, which contributed $2.3 trillion to GDP in the G-20 in 2010 and is expected to contribute more than $4 trillion to their GDP in 2016, is growing at 10 percent a year—significantly faster than the global economy as a whole. The growth in the digital economy is even higher in developing markets: 15 to 25 percent per year. Around the world, the digital economy is an increasingly important source of jobs, and digital technologies are enabling far-reaching social and political changes as well.
As Internet penetration expands, connection speeds improve, and device prices fall, it is expected that there will be more than 1 billion new users by 2020. By then, the digital economy’s contribution to GDP in the G-20 is anticipated to reach $6.6 trillion a year, or 7.1 percent of total GDP in these nations. And these figures do not reflect the potential impact of the Internet of Things, which could connect between 30 billion and 50 billion additional devices by 2020, helping to operate everything from home-heating systems to automotive vehicles to jet aircraft.
The continued expansion of Internet penetration and use, and the long-term growth of the digital economy, depend on infrastructure. A new report by the World Economic Forum, written in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group—Expanding Participation and Boosting Growth: The Infrastructure Needs of the Digital Economy—seeks to identify the most important challenges facing development of a healthy digital infrastructure for the years 2020 and thereafter in both developed and developing markets. It examines the particular challenges of bringing the economic and social benefits of connectivity to emerging markets, which were home to 96 percent of all nonusers of the Internet in 2014. The report builds on the broad recommendations of The World Economic Forum’s 2014 report (also written with BCG)—Delivering Digital Infrastructure: Advancing the Internet Economy—which explored serious obstacles to the continued growth of the digital economy over the subsequent three to five years, with an emphasis on the U.S. and Europe.