Reminder: Don’t get hung up on statistics
Determining exactly who uses the Internet is a daunting task. One can either measure the number of registered IP addresses within a country or take a survey and extrapolate the results. Each method has its flaws; the first underestimates the number of Internet users (there are often multiple per IP address) and the latter is cumbersome to execute and contains substantial error as well. Of course, its essential to have a ballpark figure of how many Internet users exist. More importantly, however, are growth trends. Even if the absolute numbers are not entirely certain, the relative periodical trends are extremely useful.
A recent news story out of Ghana highlights the aforementioned discrepancy. According to the ITU, Ghana had approximately 1 million Internet users at the beginning of 2009, and 1.3 million at year-end for a gain of 300,000 during the year. However, the Ghanaian Minister of Communications recently pinned the number of Internet users at 2.5 million. The reason for the vast difference in numbers? The ITU data relied on the number of IP addresses. Many such IPs, such as those at Internet cafés, serve multiple patrons every day, let alone every year.
Why the concern over numbers? These statistics determine government-spending and can act as a barometer of how ICT growth influences GDP. Foreign investors also investigate statistics to determine potential financial return. Also, many national ICT plans involve Internet or broadband penetration goals. Ghana’s National Broadband Strategy, for example, cites a 50% Internet penetration rate in the next five years. Will the goal be met? Probably not if solely IP addresses are counted.