Connecting the Next Billion

Connecting the Next Billion

Remarks
Catherine A. Novelli
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
IGF-USA Steering Group
Washington, DC
July 16, 2015

I. Introduction

Good afternoon. I want to thank the IGF-USA Steering Group for planning this event and George Washington University for hosting. I also want to thank the multi-stakeholder community that’s present today, whose energy, dedication, and vigilance is critical to ensuring the Internet’s vitality.

II. Goals for the IGF

It is with high expectations that we prepare ourselves for this year’s global IGF in Brazil. Over the past few years, we have seen the IGF grow in stature, in participants, in diversity, and in substance. This is a very positive development. The IGF has demonstrated that it is a preeminent venue for the multi-stakeholder community to share opinions, ideas, and solutions to problems regarding a range of Internet governance and policy issues. Its continued growth and long-term stability is absolutely essential to the future of the Internet.

The Internet and technology are strengthening the lives of people everywhere, particularly in the developing world. For example:

Since the first IGF ten years ago, the number of Internet users has increased from 1 billion to 3 billion people.
Mobile phone subscriptions have increased from 40% of the world’s population in 2005 to over 90% today. That includes over four billion subscriptions in developing countries.
And today, the Internet’s economic benefits are increasingly being felt in the developing world. Overall, 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.
In Brazil, we must continue to demonstrate to the world that the multi-stakeholder approach, that brings together government policy-makers, businesses, NGOs and Internet experts on an equal footing, is the best way to effectively overcome today’s challenges and preserve the Internet’s future. I am thrilled with the growing support for this model of Internet governance. For example, just a few weeks ago, Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad announced the Government of India’s support for the multistakeholder approach at the last ICANN meeting. The Minister stressed the idea that multistakeholderism should embrace all geographies and societies. I could not agree more with Minister Prasad on this point and we look forward to our continued dialogue with India and others on this important issue. Every citizen – regardless of the country they live in – can contribute to global decision-making on how we manage this common resource.

At the next IGF in Brazil, we should continue to find ways to further encourage and enhance global participation in multi-stakeholder bodies, like the IGF, ICANN or the Internet Engineering Task Force. As I travel the world and speak with entrepreneurs, technologists, and Internet users, I hear their interest in shaping and preserving the Internet’s future. A key challenge is how to make the ability to contribute ideas and solutions available to a broader spectrum of people.

Over these next few months, I encourage everyone to work together to further strengthen the IGF. We can promote stronger regional IGF discussions between annual global meetings. Most importantly, we must all ensure that the IGF continues and remains an inclusive, respected, and neutral convener of the international multistakeholder community. It is vital, however, that the IGF do more than just convene. The IGF should also be a forum where solutions to the thorny issues that surround the Internet, such as identify theft, preserving privacy and security of networks are put forward. The U.S. Government will continue to fully support the continuation of those efforts.

Development as a Priority

I want to commend the IGF’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group for selecting the theme “Policy Options for Connecting the Next Billion” for its intercessional work at the global IGF in Brazil. I am also gratified that the IGF-USA selected this same theme for our plenary session this afternoon.

To fulfill the Internet’s promise, all stakeholders must redouble development efforts to extend Internet access to everyone. Unfortunately, the benefits of economic development – access to education, medicine, information and global markets that are fostered by the Internet are not yet shared by all. Today, roughly three out of every five people in the world remain without Internet access – and in the poorest countries that figure can top 95%.

There’s a reason why access is relatively high in Colombia but low in Venezuela; high in Malaysia but low in North Korea; high in Kenya but low in Ethiopia. Some governments do much more than others to make access possible. Countries everywhere – including the United States – need clear and comprehensive national broadband plans that allow for private investment, encourage competition, remove bureaucratic obstacles and take full advantage of shared Internet services at schools, libraries, community centers and cafes.

With that goal in mind, the U.S. Department of State is looking for ways to partner with countries, regional development banks, network engineers, and industry leaders to substantially increase broadband access in the developing world and foster a sound policy environment to ensure a healthy Internet.

A recent report of the Alliance for an Affordable Internet (A4AI) provides at least four critical success factors for any government that wants to better extend Internet connectivity to its citizens.

First, drive broadband infrastructure expansion through increased private investment and removal of barriers;
Second, intensify competition and level the playing field to increase access, reduce cost and stimulate demand;
Third, open access and infrastructure sharing; and
fourth, enable access to spectrum.
These factors provide an excellent starting point for collective action. And, I commend this year’s IGF-USA for creating a diverse, multi-stakeholder working group to discuss and formulate high-level policy options that reflect the report of the Alliance for an Affordable Internet. I look forward to continuing this discussion at the global IGF in Brazil. It will take all of us, working in partnership, to help connect the rest of the world.

III. Closing

The Internet offers unprecedented opportunities for economic growth in developing countries. Of the developing world’s 1.4 billion extremely poor people, 70 percent live in rural areas. Their lives can be transformed by connecting village schools to the web, bringing telemedicine to far-flung rural health centers, providing accurate weather information to farmers and fisherman, and supplying up-to-date market information to producers. For every ten percent increase in a country’s Internet penetration, its total economic growth expands by one to two percent. Thus, the Internet is a foundational tool for creating shared prosperity. It is as fundamental for economic growth as highways, power grids, and ports.

However, the Internet can only be an engine for inclusive growth if it is available, accessible, and affordable for everyone. To successfully connect the rest of the world, we will need multi-stakeholder engagement and cooperation. Over these next few months, I look forward to working together with you towards our shared goal.