Elon University

Plenary Session – Enhancing Internet Connectivity for All and Bringing the Next Billion Online

IGF USA LogoBrief session description:

Thursday, July 14, 2016 – This session and many at IGF-USA 2016 tied directly into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Connecting the Next Billion, a major theme of the Global IGF in 2015 and in 2016. Among the projects now underway in the U.S. is Global Connect, a joint effort by the U.S. State Department and the World Bank in conjunction with IEEE, to establish support for bringing 1.5 billion more people globally online by 2020.

Recent submissions from the National and Regional IGFs into the IGF public comments regarding Connecting the Next Billion: Phase II are prioritizing moving beyond the pursuit of only basic online access to helping everyone gain digital literacy and have access to key online applications from which they can benefit.

In the U.S., the FCC is also running the Connect America initiative. The UN Agenda for Sustainable Development identifies information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the Internet as horizontal enablers for development. Several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize the importance of connectivity, specifically, paragraph 9-c. sets an important goal for the international community: “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.” One important aspect of the UN SDGs is that they are recognized as impacting both developed and developing nation-states.

You can read a print account and view video highlights on this page see a full print transcript of this session here or see full archived video here.

Details of the session:

The session was moderated by Karen McCabe, senior director, technology policy and international affairs, IEEE. Speakers included:

  • Kevin Martin, VP for mobile and global access policy, Facebook; formerly chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • Carolina Rossini, VP, international policy and strategy, Public Knowledge
  • Jonathan Metzer, NetHope lead, USAID Global Broadband and Innovations Alliance
  • Namema Amendi, legal and policy fellow, Microsoft
  • Manu Bhardwaj, senior official U.S. State Department, international economic and trade policy

Access Panel IGF 2016 PhotoPanelists in the IGF-USA Connecting the Next Billion opening plenary discussed the obstacles that make expanding Internet access across the globe a complex process and why widespread connectivity will help users improve their own lives.

Karen McCabe, IEEE’s senior director of technology policy and international affairs, moderated the panel discussion, which featured “lightning round” talks of just a few minutes from each panelist.

All of the representatives of businesses, government and civil society speaking on this panel addressed the need for global cooperation to try to reach the Global Connect goal of connecting at least 1.5 billion more people online by 2020.

Driving education, productivity; much more than just social

Panelists referred liberally to a connectivity gap in which 5 million Americans and 4.5 billion people around the world don’t have access to the Internet—a tool that has become a daily necessity, and not just for people who are living in highly developed urban areas, according to Namema Amendi, legal and policy fellow at Microsoft.

He urged that this lack of access to an increasingly vital network is not just about being able to use the Internet as a way to connect socially.

Namema Speaking at IGF USA 2016 Photo“We’re talking about Internet connections that drive productivity,” Amendi said, especially in terms of furthering education in developing countries. He showed a video that illustrated how people living in rural or remote areas or in poverty can lift their lives through connectivity.

Partnerships between global stakeholders who can make those connections are vital to better enable world citizens to take advantage of what the Internet offers, he said.

Kevin Martin, vice president for mobile and global access policy for Facebook, said what makes expanding the Internet—especially broadband connections—difficult in many countries are multifaceted issues that prevent progress.

“It’s a wide variety of connectivity challenges,” he said, adding that overcoming those barriers will have an immeasurable impact in developing companies, and noting “the millions of children who would then have access to education.”

Some people don’t know why they should go online or how

Jonathan Metzer, a leader with USAID’s Global Broadband and Innovations Alliance, demonstrated one way the digital divide is growing with an example involving his own children.

“Every day that they continue to expand their own knowledge, whether it’s developing apps or doing their homework, and other kids around the world don’t have access to that, that means that the gap is widening” he noted. “So it’s not purely about having access, it’s about what you do with it.”

He said people who do not understand how to use the Internet or even why they should get online must be reached with that knowledge.

Martin stressed the importance of tackling these hurdles through cooperation, for instance in the context of bringing the Internet to areas that lack substantive infrastructure.

Bhardwaj Speaking at IGF 2016 PhotoHe noted it is vital to enable local people who understand the issues to lead their communities in these efforts.

“It just shows the importance of us working together as a partnership to address these issues,” he said.

Senior U.S. Department of State official Manu Bhardwaj also chimed in about the need for global cooperation.

“Ensuring universal access is a challenge that can’t be solved alone,” he said.

“It has a real effect on people’s lives. There’s no one-size-fits all solution to overcoming these barriers.”

Funding and finances have to come together to make things work

Another practical barrier to the goal of achieving worldwide connectivity is the money involved.

“We’ve got to find ways to drive down the costs of connectivity,” Martin urged, adding that people without the Internet calculate whether what it costs to connect is worth the price and often assume it is not.

He added, “We have to continue to work on the awareness factor.”

Rossini Speaking at IGF 2016 PhotoCarolina Rossini, vice president for international policy with Public Knowledge, addressed the big picture of extending Internet participation to poor populations, especially those in developing countries.

She said many spheres of society are united in the effort to support human rights and civil liberties, adding that connectivity plays an obvious role in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“We want, at the end of the day, to eliminate extreme poverty,” Rossini said. “We have that in common.”

She emphasized the importance of using the Internet not only as an education tool, but also as a means of teaching newly-connected users what they are using, and allowing them to decide how to use this tool as a way to improve their communities in the context of globalization.

– By Christina Elias

Click here to return to IGF-USA 2016 homepage.

The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2016 included the following Elon University School of Communications students, staff and faculty:

Bryan Anderson, Janna Anderson, Bryan Baker, Elizabeth Bilka, Ashley Bohle, Courtney Campbell, Colin Donohue, Melissa Douglas, Mackenzie Dunn, Maya Eaglin, Christina Elias, Rachel Ellis, Caroline Hartshorn, Paul LeBlanc, Emmanuel Morgan, Joey Nappa, Diego Pineda Davila, Alyssa Potter, Kailey Tracy, Andrew Steinitz, Anna Zwingelberg