The Internet Belongs to Everyone

August 28, 2014
Man Uses Mobile Device As a Crowd Walks Past Him
Next week, I will travel to Istanbul, Turkey to lead the U.S. delegation to the 9th Annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF).  This year, more than 3,000 participants from all continents representing different stakeholder groups -- governments, private sector, civil society, technical community and academia -- will attend the IGF.
 
Why will so many government officials, CEOs, and Internet scholars devote one week of their time to attend the IGF?  The answer is clear: they all care about the Internet's future, and the IGF is the premier international meeting to discuss that topic.
 
Across the world, people's lives are improved by the Internet.  Farmers in Kenya use mobile services, like DrumNet, to compare prices for their produce at a range of locations and are now earning 33-40 percent more for their crops.  These services offer an essential tool to farmers -- access to information.  Today, students everywhere are also benefiting through free online education services.  One website, Coursera, offers hundreds of free courses, partners with top universities and colleges, and has more than nine million users -- 65 percent of which are outside the United States.
 
My message at the IGF is twofold: first, the Internet has proven to be a tremendous force for economic and social empowerment and, second, we have a shared responsibility to adopt policies and practices to ensure the Internet’s continued growth.  We should not take the Internet’s growth for granted; instead, I will urge the international community to redouble its efforts to ensure the Internet’s continued expansion.
 
The Internet has become a platform for economic growth as fundamental as highways, power grids and universities.  A 2012 report projects that by 2016, the Internet economy will reach $4.2 trillion in the G-20 economies alone.  And, developing countries are experiencing faster rates of growth than developed countries.  The Internet economy contributes 5 to 9 percent to total economic growth in developed markets; and, in developing markets, the Internet economy is growing at 15 to 25 percent per year.   With Internet growth shifting to the developing world, developing and emerging market countries have enormous potential to benefit further from the Internet.
 
Given the Internet’s positive impact on economic growth, it is vital that all stakeholders adopt policies and practices to ensure improved access to and continued innovation on the Internet.  We have a shared responsibility to promote everyone’s access to broadband.  We have a shared responsibility to strengthen the free flow of information.  And, we have the shared responsibility to prevent misuse of the Internet, whether that’s cyber-attacks or identity theft.
 
In Istanbul, I will reiterate these messages and call on the IGF community to address these shared challenges in a broad, creative, and collaborative manner.  The IGF is the premier venue to discuss the Internet’s future.  As such, the IGF community is uniquely situated to respond to these challenges and develop best practices for strengthening the Internet.
 
As the State Department’s Senior Coordinator for International Information Technology Diplomacy, I am excited about the opportunity to engage governments, industry, and civil society at this year’s IGF.  The Internet has been remarkably successful but also faces certain challenges as we work to bring the next 3 billion people online.  Our focus should be on solving real problems through the multi-stakeholder processes that underpins the Internet’s success.  Let’s remember that the Internet belongs to everyone -- let’s keep it open.
 
About the Author: Catherine Novelli serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. Follow @CathyNovelli on Twitter for updates from the Under Secretary.

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