Access to affordable high-speed Internet can unleash the human potential and vastly expand the social and economic opportunities that exist in the digital age. It can change lives by connecting schools to the web, bringing telemedicine to rural health centers, lowering the barriers to political participation, and supplying up-to-date market information to businesses and entrepreneurs.
But the economic benefits fostered by the Internet are not yet shared by all. In fact, nearly 60% of the global population—some 4 billion people—are without Internet access, and in the poorest countries, that figure can top 95%.
That’s why last year, at the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. Department of State launched the Global Connect Initiative to bring together countries, international finance institutions, industry, and civil society to connect the unconnected and make Internet access a fundamental part of development efforts.
Today the Global Connect Initiative has more than 40 countries committed to bringing an additional 1.5 billion people online by 2020. As the President has stated, the Global Connect Initiative is “bringing wonders of technology to far corners of the globe, accelerating access to the Internet, [and] bridging the digital divide.”
This past week, the countries and a diverse set of stakeholders gathered together in Washington, D.C. to discuss how they are prioritizing expanding Internet access, fostering policies that will enable digital growth and ensure a free and open Internet, and supporting the engagement of industry and technical talent to develop advance reference network designs in collaboration with regional partners.
Out of those discussions, a few highpoints were clear: One key to connecting the unconnected is seeing the Internet as critical infrastructure--like roads, bridges and ports--and then increasing financing and resources that would go toward building that Internet infrastructure. For instance, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Government's development finance institution, recently announced that it has surpassed the $1 billion mark in financing and investment in just the past year for international connectivity infrastructure projects. These funds, along with other stakeholder announcements, are bringing Internet access to millions around the world through projects taking place in 15 countries across the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
To make the most out of these investments, development organizations and countries are beginning to bring technical experts with business knowledge to the planning table to advise on cost-saving network designs, Internet infrastructure opportunities, and how to increase local skills development and training. For instance, on September 15 of this year, government officials, including U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma, with business leaders, and development institutions, met with technical experts to discuss some of the challenges facing the expansion of Internet access in India and the potential solutions to overcome them.
Over this past year, the State Department has also begun working with countries like Tunisia, India, and Argentina on how to promote and frame policies and regulations that will unlock digital growth and foster an open and accessible internet. To help coordinate U.S. engagements related to Internet access, this past June the President created a Global Connect International Connectivity Committee (GCICC) comprised of 16 federal agencies and led by the Department of State.
Bridging the digital divide and connecting the world to the Internet will require hard work and a determined focus, and no one country or entity can solve the issue alone. The Global Connect Initiative provides a framework to bring together countries and stakeholders as we push toward connecting the world to the Internet.
For more information on the Global Connect Initiative, please visit share.america.gov/globalconnect.