In many of the world’s poorest countries, mobile phones are more common than clean water or electricity. Today, more than three billion people worldwide enjoy Internet access.
This technological progress is remarkable.
However, for the 60 percent of the world’s population that still lacks Internet access, reaping the benefits of the digital revolution is difficult or impossible.
We can and we must help bridge this divide.
Earlier this month, the World Bank released its annual World Development Report -- “Digital Dividends” -- which unequivocally shows that Internet connectivity can boost economic growth across the developing world when accompanied by good Internet policies.
Here’s where the State Department comes in. Last fall, we launched the Global Connect Initiative, an effort that aims to bring an additional 1.5 billion people online by 2020 -- the equivalent of adding 50 percent more Internet users than exist today. As part of this initiative, U.S. development agencies will prioritize Internet access in projects they support around the world. We will champion Internet policies that can ensure these new connections bear fruit.
We will mainstream the view that Internet connectivity is as fundamental to economic development and prosperity as roads, ports, electricity and other traditional infrastructure. And we will encourage governments to adopt effective policies that facilitate Internet access, consistent with many of those highlighted in the World Development Report.
We know that economic growth and broadband access can go hand-in-hand. According to a World Bank study, a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration correlates with a 1.3 percent increase in GDP in developing countries.
More than 30 developed and developing countries already have committed to working with the Department of State on the Global Connect Initiative. Every partner country or stakeholder will contribute what they can, be it infrastructure technology, advice on best regulatory practices, or financial or technical support providing greater Internet access.
Last week in Davos, Vice President Biden noted that Global Connect was “…as profound as what happened in our country in the ‘30s in the Tennessee Valley Authority bringing electricity to vast stretches of my country, only it’s more profound because there’s access to education just by turning on your smartphone.”
And the United Nations(UN) Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, in a special session at Davos, echoed our call for connecting 1.5 billion additional people within five years.
In just a few months, we are looking forward to hosting the first annual Global Connect Conference, timed to immediately precede the 2016 Spring World Bank Fund meetings.
This initiative is a first step towards achieving universal Internet access by 2030 -- one of the Sustainable Development Goals the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted in September 2015.
Connecting 1.5 billion people within five years is an ambitious goal with profound economic and developmental implications for the world. And it can only be achieved if we work closely with global partners.
We’re looking everywhere for great ideas. If you have suggestions about how we can ensure the Global Connect Initiative reaches its goal, please share them with my team at GlobalConnect@state.gov.
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