Investing in the World's NExT Generation

Posted by Daniel Sepulveda
July 18, 2014
Young Men Use a Tablet Computer in Pretoria, South Africa

During my travels around the world, I have had the opportunity to meet with leaders in the Internet community from public and private sectors and to hear their views about the future of the Internet.  An important message that I am hearing from many of them is that while we all recognize that it is important to connect the entire world to the Internet, it won’t happen by itself.  Their concerns reflect those of a growing number of people whose lives and livelihood are dedicated to the growth of the network.  Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, has repeatedly stressed that, while it’s easy to assume most people will soon have Internet access and opportunity, that just isn’t the case.   I agree wholeheartedly. 

With 2.7 billion people currently online, the growth of the Internet has been impressive, but there are still billions of people without access.  That presents challenges not only for them, but all of us. In fact, I consider it a core part of my job to advocate abroad for legal and regulatory environments that encourage investments in broadband infrastructure.  And I am encouraged that the United States government is already dedicating resources to promote public investment in broadband infrastructure in hard to reach areas, where private capital may find it too difficult to reap a return to make global connectivity possible. 

A friend and leader in the Internet community took the opportunity during a multistakeholder meeting in the Global South last year to do a day of service.  He went to speak about the Internet to a classroom of school kids in a relatively low income community.  As he started his talk, a child raised his hand to ask, “What is the Internet?”  Taken aback, my friend asked the classroom of 14 children if anyone there knew.  One child raised his hand and said, “I don’t know what it is but I think my mom has it.”

This story illustrates the unfortunate reality for far too many children living in too many communities around the world -- lack of access to the Internet.  The repercussions for their personal development and the world’s social and economic development of that digital isolation are unacceptable and represent a challenge to the international community; however, they are challenges that are well within our capacity to address.

Domestically and internationally, the United States government is doing our part to ensure that more people have the resources and skills to share in the Internet’s benefits and opportunities.  We have come a long way in America toward ensuring that every one of our communities and every one of our schools is connected to the Internet through the Universal Service Fund and by creating an environment that encourages investment in Internet broadband infrastructure and services.  We have done that because we know what connectivity means for social development and individual enrichment through education, creation of content, and expression in civic life.  This commitment to investing in the next generation, is one that the we are pledging resources to, both at home and abroad.

Through programs such as the U. S. Agency for International Development’s Global Broadband and Innovations program, we are extending broadband to rural areas and helping governments to build out networks using Universal Service Funds in countries from Kenya to Vietnam and working to ensure the critical infrastructural foundation is in place in remote and last mile communities.

Through another public-private partnership, the U.S. Telecommunications Training Institute, USTTI, offers tuition-free training to government officials and regulators in Africa and other developing regions on issues ranging from radio spectrum management to cyber security that are essential for ICT development. 

My own office within the Department of State coordinates the Technology Leadership Program; a program designed to support training expenses and facilitate Information Communication Technology policy training to public sector experts in emerging markets.

Yet another project underway, the Alliance for Affordable Internet, is a key complement to our years of work supporting infrastructure build out and extending the reach of these technologies.  The Alliance is a 60-member U.S. government-supported coalition that works to catalyze policy change in order to drive down Internet prices, and help to bring the next two billion people online.  The Alliance is working to bring mobile and fixed line Internet access costs in line with the UN Broadband Commission's goal of no more than 5 percent of monthly income.

These efforts are just a few examples of how we are committed and involved in global efforts to connect people around the world to the revolutionary force that is the global Internet.  We applaud the efforts of other governments and private sector stakeholders working on new technologies that will enable more connectivity at lower prices everywhere.

The Internet helps people find critical information, start and grow their businesses, improve public services, and organize around key issues.  It is the responsibility of governments, the private sector, civil society, and academia to ensure that an open, interoperable and secure Internet is a reality for everyone. It is particularly our responsibility as longtime supporters and beneficiaries of market-based incentives to rolling out the Internet that we ensure those incentives work to connect the four billion people still not connected to the Internet.  The United States government values partnership and collaboration to make this possible.  No one country, no one company, no one institution, can connect the world.  We will all have to work together to achieve that goal.  But it is achievable and it is worth pursuing.

About the Author: Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB).

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