TRANSCRIPTS FROM GLOBAL CONNECT PANEL – Global Connect is a joint effort undertaken by the U.S. Department of State and the World Bank in conjunction with IEEE to establish support for bringing 1.5 billion more people globally online by 2020 – was the focus of a set of lightning talks during the morning plenary of IGF-USA 2016. This page contains full transcripts of each of the presenters comments in the order in which they were presented as part of “Beyond Mere Access to Enhanced Connectivity for the Next Billion Online.”
Legal & Policy Fellow, Microsoft
I have a video I’d like to start with to give you the flavor of what we are doing at Microsoft to connect the next billion. [Shows video promoting global projects – one location is an Internet café in Kenya that used TV white spaces to provide Internet in the area.]
At Microsoft, our mission really is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. We emphasize “on the planet” so that you know we’re not just thinking about a small business in a place like Michigan or a kid out in New York City. We’re really talking about everybody on the planet, including a kid in rural Kenya, where I actually grew up without an Internet connection, and so that really is our mission.
But this becomes really difficult in this day and age because 4.5 billion people around the world do not have Internet access. Here in the United States it’s about 5 million. It really becomes difficult if you’re a cloud-based company like us. We no longer send you a CD in the mail, right? With an access code on it. These days you usually just turn on a tap once you sign on and, at the end of the month if you don’t pay, we turn it off. So that’s really how we work these days, and it becomes really difficult if people are not connected to the Internet. So when we talk about Internet connection at Microsoft, what are we really talking about?
We’re not talking about people just being able to send a WhatsApp message or a Facebook message here and there. We’re really talking about the Internet connection that drives productivity. So we’re talking about you being able to Skype for business. We’re talking about an education institution being able to have their students download papers, work on papers, upload their homework. So that’s the kind of Internet we want. So you want it to be ubiquitous, to be everywhere whenever it’s needed at any point in time.
We need it to be robust. We need to be able to support applications that are really latency-sensitive, so applications that really consume a lot of data. That’s what we really need and that’s what we’re working on. So how are we going about this? We really focus on partnerships, so three words: partnership, partnership, partnership. That’s how we’re really going about this. We have about 18 projects worldwide. Recently, we just launched a grand fund and we took about 12 entrepreneurs from five different continents, from about 11 different countries, to help them really think about what the business models are to really try this kind of productivity.
Microsoft is not an Internet service provider. We’re not an ISP. We don’t have a cable company in your home. We don’t have a tower in which we are able to beam Internet. Our goal here is to really work with these ISPs and really help them drive up their business models.
So one of the areas we work on is TV white spaces, which is a technology that brings WiFi, which we all know usually works in a small room like this, but then be able to push it down within the UHF and VHF area, and have WiFi really go for a really long range, really long distance. It can go through mountains, and all these different things. That’s really one of the technological points that we are working with these companies, these ISPs, to really provide Internet connection.
Another key area that we work on is talking about how to access capital, providing them with cloud services, so they will really be able to scale up their services. I have just a few seconds left but I would be happy to talk about this more, I’m going to be speaking in the next session. Hopefully this gives you a flavor of how we are tackling this problem.
Vice President for Mobile and General Access Policy, Facebook
Thank you all for inviting me to be on the panel this morning. As the first session showed us, the problems with connectivity are multi-faceted. The solutions to it are multi-faceted as well. And so one of the exciting things for me when I joined Facebook was just to understand how many different efforts they’re making to solve connectivity challenges. We have new technologies and are partnering with a variety of players in the ecosystem.
We partnered with Microsoft in advancing the TV White Spaces agenda. We have a variety of new technologies we are experimenting with, from unlicensed spectrum to extend out the reach and connectivity in villages in India, to trying to use very high frequencies to increase the capacity in urban areas which are very challenged. We have new technologies that are going to be using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles to be able to be flying over and providing backhaul services to places that are extremely remote.
[There’s] a wide variety of connectivity challenges. As Under Secretary Novelli was talking about in the beginning, the impact of bringing connectivity to the world is significant—not only the economic impact, of increasing the [typical] GDP by 1 to 2 percent—but the practical impact it has on people’s lives. The hundreds of millions of jobs that it can end up creating, the millions of children who then have access to educational information, and the healthcare implications are significant.
We think this is so critical that we need to spend a significant amount of our time and resources to try to be able to solve this challenge and work in partnership with various companies and with all of you.
You know, one of the things that was interesting about the Global Connect Initiative for us is not only who participates and the introductions to various players outside the United States, but that we actually even made connections with other companies here in the United States that we weren’t aware of what they were doing.
One of the things, for example, was so important about that is that we connected with American Tower and some of their efforts around the world, to use their tower infrastructure to expand connectivity, and we’ve been trying to think of ways we can be creative in partnering with them. It shows you the importance of us [all stakeholders] working together as a partnership to address so many of these issues.
One the things that struck me about the first presentation [at IGF-USA today] was the fact that Lee Rainie said the [accessibility] challenges might be somewhat changing, from mere awareness to price and affordability—it was one of the themes that I took away from his presentation. In many ways I think those two issues are somewhat connected.
Obviously, having underlying infrastructure access is an important component, and we have a lot of technologies that we’re working on. But really, the combination of price and relevance—I mean price and awareness—is really kind of a relevance factor. In other words, is what it costs to get on worth the price to you? And so, I think we have to combat that two ways: We have to continue to work on the awareness factor, and we’ve got a variety of programs that we’re trying to end up doing to try to make sure we’re extending and promoting Internet connectivity. Although I would say that sending a Whatsapp or Facebook message is a good thing—it should still count. But I take the point that we want broader connectivity. I think the other component of that is how do we decrease the overall costs in the system?
And obviously, there’s government subsidies policies that we end up supporting. But in addition we have to find ways to drive down the cost of that connectivity. And so we have actually recently announced and are working with the ecosystem to drive down those costs of connectivity.
We had had a program called our Open Compute Program in which we made and open-source hardware and software designs available for data centers. And that ended up not only driving down the cost of those data centers, but also making them much more energy-efficient. And, one of the things that Under Secretary Novelli brought up to me right before our panel was how much that was important on the energy side. So we’re trying to take those same principles and drive them into the telecommunications access side. And so we’ve been increasingly partnering with underlying operators and equipment providers to do the same thing on the access side, to try to make it a more of an open environment to help drive down those costs.
And then we also need to make sure that the content that’s available—to address the kind of awareness and cost factor—that the content is available in more bite-sized chunks. In many of these markets the underlying connectivity doesn’t have the same capacity and capabilities. So how do we also make sure that the content is designed for that? We actually have a lab where any content provider can come and replicate what the connectivity is like in any country around the world, and you can see how your content would be seen by an average user there. So you can actually see how you need to make your delivery of that content more efficient.
We work a lot from Facebook’s perspective on how do we end up doing, to make our content systematized so it can be available in more bite-sized chunks. All of these efforts are a reflection not only of the challenges but of the way we need to address it in a holistic way and in partnership with everyone here in the room.
GBI Chief of Party, Nethope, US Agency for International Development
I’m here to talk about the program called The Global Broadband and Innovations Alliance, and this is a core program funded by USAID, the United States Agency for International Development. And at its heart, it’s really to narrow the digital divide. I really appreciated Lee’s presentation this morning, and also remarks about the digital divide. It’s our contention that the divide is growing. It’s not narrowing, and the measure for that is if you look at, you’ve got 4 billion people that that unconnected. That’s a problem.
But above and beyond that statistic, I look at it, what can you do with that? Right? And so if you have every day that I use my own children as examples, I’ve got two teenagers. They’re digital addicts. They almost don’t know how to do something if they’re not doing it with a device. Right? So, every day that they continue to expand their own knowledge, whether it’s developing an app or doing their homework, and other kids around the world don’t have access to that? That means that that gap is widening. Right? So it’s not purely just about having access, it’s about what you do with it.
So our program is designed with four elements in mind to be able to address that. The first, the cornerstone, is on the policy side. And to do that, we heard Cathy Novelli talk about national broadband strategies. So, for example, we’re working with the Zambian government. They’ve pulled together about 60 key stakeholders in the country. So it’s not purely the ministry that oversees telecommunications, or the ICT agency, but in fact it’s the Ministry of Tourism, it’s the Ministry of Education, it’s also the private sector, mobile network operators, that are all key stakeholders because unless you have the entire country that’s pulling for broadband to go everywhere, you’re not doing your plan right
We also work with the Universal Service Funds. So, with our partner Integra, we helped work with the Nigerian government to release about $23 million. This helps to push access out to rural areas and helps to fund applications. It’s worked effectively in the United States since 1936. It’s working around the world, and it’s trying to free up those funds to allow people to be able to use it.
It’s also not easy. Sometimes these funds are the largest funds that countries have available to them. So the fund in Peru is roughly about $200 million, and it’s actually growing rather than shrinking because they can’t spend it fast enough because of corruption issues.
You can put out a tender there for $300,000 or less. And that could be approved in roughly 1-2 months. But if you put out something more, it goes, it has to go through inner agencies’ committees and it may never be approved in about two years.
So in fact, they have a great fund but it’s not working really well because it’s growing rather than shrinking, so they’re not being able to use their funds effectively to narrow the divide. So, these are our policy cornerstone.
At the very heart we work with the private sector because the private sector has to build up networks. So, Namema, I didn’t know you were going to play that video, but we partnered with Microsoft on that very site in Nanyuki with Mawingu networks. It’s a phenomenal project. You really should watch the video again or even look at it online.
They’ve done an amazing job in rural Kenya because they’ve gotten the usage price down to about $4 a month. They brought broadband Internet to areas of the country that were deemed to be unprofitable by say Orange or Safari Comms—so the established providers. So here you have a little start-up that with Microsoft backing, with USAID funds, with other funds, and they were able to then use new technology, as well as policy reform to take advantage of what we used to call beachfront property in the radio spectrum, because once TV spaces were digitized, it opened up a lot of prime real estate in the radio spectrum, so people could be able to use it cost-effectively, as they have been doing in Kenya.
So we’ve partnered with the private sector to be able to bring these networks to rural areas.
There’s a really interesting book that just was published with USAID support by FHI 360 and SSG advisors. It’s called “Business Models for the Last Billion,” we didn’t have anything to do with it, but it’s a great book and I encourage people to download it if you want to read about some interesting models the private sector has been pushing.
Thirdly, cooperation. There’s no way to get to the billion and half that Cathy Novelli and Manu [Bhardwaj] are working with in Global Connect without having cooperation. Our own program, we spent about $15 million in the last five years. We leveraged over $16 million. So, you know, as an example, we have a project in Kenya, a different project in Kenya, where were we’ve connected the world’s largest refugee camp in the world. We only had to pay about one-seventh of the total cost. Others like Cisco, they came to the plate, Microsoft came to the plate, and said, “OK, let’s make this work.” And we had the established providers, in fact, the same ones I was mentioning before, Orange and Safari Comm, and now they are actually able to provide connectivity to all the refugees, so that the refugees can now get education online. And so when they go back to, say Somalia, or wherever else they are from, they are able to be immediately employed.
The last thing I would like to talk about is the application side of things. I mean, this is for us, is a real driver of what people do with it.
And so, you know, if you look at like a country like Lebanon, where if you buy an Internet package, it’s not that you get unlimited bandwidth like you do here if you go to Comcast or Verizon. You are going to be limited on the number of megabytes that you’re going to be able to download. So when you just look at pure access issues, yes I might have access, but I’m not able to do things in sort of an equitable manner. I’m not able to take courses online because that’s going to consume too much data, and I won’t be able to pay for it. So what we strive to do is to make certain that people have affordable access, but it’s also competitively provided so we have a wide variety of services. It’s also fast enough to be able to do whatever you want to do to improve your lives. Whether it’s to bank the unbanked—we’ve been working on programs for digital financial services to get women to get their first bank accounts. It’s all done through the phone. It’s mobile money, if you will, like the M-Pesa program in Kenya. So we’ve been pushing this around the world as a way to get more people online as a draw, and it’s a useful tool for their own lives.
I’d just like to leave you with an image. About 12 years ago, with support from the U.S. government we helped to make Macedonia the world’s first all-wireless broadband country. And after that we wired every single school. So I was really encouraged to hear that Tunisia is in fact now after the same thing.
Estonia is a country that recently has done pretty much the same effort. If you don’t, if your countries that don’t adopt this, they will lose out on a competitive basis. I think about the Under Secretary’s remark about a 10-percent increase in access will grow the GDP about a percent and a half. A phenomenal statistic, which should convince just about every finance minister and every education minister and every prime minister in a country as well as every parent into caring.
I also look it in terms of a regional comparison. Say if Zambia is advancing because they are following their national broadband plan, but Zimbabwe is not. Well Zimbabwe may get the percent and a half, but in comparison terms, Zambia’s moved ahead of them if they’ve already wired and they’re continuing to advance. Because now kids are going to be able to take this and grow.
So not only think about that on a pure, national, competitive level, but since we’re in a global economy you have to put that into a global context. I’d say that a percent and a half is not enough. That’s why countries can’t just increase by 10 percent, they actually have to go to a full 100 percent [connectivity] and thy need to do it yesterday.
Vice President for International Rights and Strategy, Public Knowledge
It is wonderful to see that “connectivity” is the [most popular Internet governance] word of the year, if not of the past two years. I think this is something really good. It’s better than “surveillance” right?
And I think from Bono to Mark Zuckerberg to all of us, actually, we all are united on this effort, and of course, we all have our different roles. Those of us coming from civil society we want to be sure that a lot of the [connectivity] initiatives have some core human rights, or civil liberties or whatever you want to call it depending on which country you are from. I’m from Brazil so it’s constitutional rights. You want to be sure to embed those in those initiatives, and I think some initiatives just mentioned now by my colleagues are actually moving in the right direction.
This principle is very important at a moment when you see things like Brexit [Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union] happening. A lot of fear is spread around the world so uniting people with freedom, with human rights in mind, and giving them a purpose, and showing the what’s the added value they are going to get by connecting is really important in this moment of history we are in now.
But connection is just one step, it is a step in the right direction, but it is just the first step.
Things that are more important than connectivity have to come with it. Here, I am commenting on privacy and security. I think those are different sides of the same coin. Freedom of expression, innovation, I also see them as sides of the same coin. They all go hand-in-hand. I should be clear again. Global connection is a shared goal, it’s part of Public Knowledge’s mission, not just in the U.S., as our efforts have proven on open spectrum, on the Lifeline Program, as also in developing countries. I have been working on the broadband plan in Brazil for over 10 years trying to liberate the funding—the billions and billions to broadband that are not being invested correctly—and that’s the case in many countries.
Our core principle here, at the end of the day—I think our previous speaker has also brought that up—is to see connectivity as a means to a goal. Almost 170 countries at the UN General Assembly last year committed to the Sustainable Development Goals made it very clear that what we want here at the end of the day is to eliminate extreme poverty, and I think the Microsoft video [we opened this session with] and some efforts of Facebook in India are proving that we have that in mind.
What does it mean to have human rights by design? It means to have some element of openness in every layer of the Internet, and that means in every initiative that brings connectivity. It means open standards, it means open IP, it means privacy by design, and there are a lot of efforts going on in these, including for literacy and education. Some data that Lee Rainie brought made it very clear that people need to know what they are using the Internet for and why.
For many years I have been working with Open Education Resources, and we have been using things like blogs to help make people literate and learn how to write for the first time in their life. That’s a very tiny example of a broader initiative we have been working on.
And that’s why we have been supporting and engaging in Global Connect since it has been announced. We admire very much the energy of [Cathy] Novelli and Manu [Bhardwaj] in these many months, but as we have told them many times we need to keep these principles in mind. We need to think about principles that will leverage the $20 billion already committed to Global Connect by many countries and many companies to really have in mind some principles when they are designing but also that the results are assessed based on principles—what people are learning, what is coming out of that connectivity initiative—and that’s how we want to contribute as engaged civil society stakeholders. There is a working group coming out of Global Connect where we are working on these principles and are trying to engage, both with governments and with financial ministers and also with companies to figure that out. And, even more importantly, with the multilateral banks, because those are the ones that give the loans or grants to the countries. Governments U.S. and Germany, for instance, are some of the core investors in the World Bank on these initiatives, and then the bank distributes by contracts, and at the end of the day—many of us here are lawyers—we just have to tweak the contract and of course work the politics for this initiative to work. So we are going to have policy, but then we have top-layer initiatives around education and understanding what you can do with that technology. That’s our role as civil society and we’re going to keep supporting initiatives like that and working hand-in-hand whenever these principles are there by design and things or in mind.
Senior U.S. State Department Official
Just taking a step back, the IGF over its history has tackled some of the thorniest issues in a very effective manner. Internet governance, privacy/security, and it’s wonderful to see the energy, the enthusiasm, the leadership of U.S. companies, NGOs, thought leaders, now focusing on access. What a difference this community—the IGF-USA community—can make in really trying to extend the benefits of broadband throughout the world.
When Cathy Novelli addressed the IGF-USA community last year, remember at that time she laid out the broad themes of the Global Connect initiative even before it was launched. We did that because we really value the input and the brain power in this room and we really want to be working in close partnership with everyone as we move forward.
We heard some really terrific interventions, and I will not do them all justice, but I did try to write down a few high-level points [from the speakers in this session today], and we have two rapporteurs here with the purpose of kind of providing some sort of a summary and input to the Global IGF in Mexico. It was clear to me hearing from everyone that ensuring universal access is a challenge that can’t be solved by any one company or organization alone. It requires cooperation and partnership with the public and private sectors.
It’s very clear that connectivity has a real impact on people’s lives—economic, health, education—and there are a number of barriers that we need to have a better appreciation of to expand connectivity that must be overcome.
We also must be making the case, both to finance ministers with better data, and also trying to tie the importance of connectivity with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and broader goals that the international community has towards development. It was clear from hearing that there are a lot of key barriers to universal access that include lack of infrastructure, affordability, lack of awareness of the value and relevance to being online, and that there’s really no one-size-fits-all solution to overcoming these barriers. A range of different approaches is needed.
For the Global Connect initiative, we’re really looking forward to continuing our very strong partnerships with everyone here in the room, and we’re looking forward to our next Global Connect stakeholders event Oct. 4-5 during the Fall Bank Fund. And we’re really going to be here for most of the day. We’re looking forward to your advice on kind of the direction that we can go with this initiative to make access as impactful and relevant as possible to the global world.
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.