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TechTank

Insights on global digital policy

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Inclusion, social justice, and the bridging of the digital divide around the world are important issues within Internet governance. Two-thirds of the world population currently lacks Internet access. Residents of any country should have Internet access regardless of gender, income, or locale. This is the responsibility of the global community, not just national governments. It is in the mutual interest of nations to ensure that people can freely express themselves and communicate with each other across borders. Multilateral cooperation is essential to resolving many of these issues. On July 20, the Center for Technology innovation hosted an event with experts from the U.S. and South Korea on global digital policy. Below is a summary of their discussion.

Global digital challenges

Digital divide

Only one-third of the world population is connected to the Internet. The international community faces the challenge of including those without Internet access in the discussion of Internet governance. In addition to Internet access, there is a widening “broadband gap” in Internet speeds between developed and developing countries.

Affordability

Installing wireless networks in rural areas costs more than in an urban community. If the cost of Internet access is too high, the general public won’t be able to take advantage of these services. Broadband access is critical to participating in the benefits of the Internet economy

International disagreement

There are 193 member countries of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized U.N. agency whose goal is to connect people through information and communication technologies (ICTs). Given the different levels of Internet penetration in these countries, it is not difficult to imagine their views differing on a range of topics. Bridging these disagreements to form a consensus is a perennial challenge for the international community.

Policy recommendations

Multistakeholder model

The U.S. and South Korea agree that the multistakeholder approach is the best model to address Internet governance issues. The multistakeholder model is made up of the technical community, private enterprise, nongovernmental organizations and the government working together. It is critical for the international community to work together in an inclusive discussion by informed experts and the community. Ensuring more equitable participation in the discussion of Internet governance is important to justify this multistakeholder approach since the entire world has a stake in the benefits of the Internet.

Wider ICT benefits

ICT is an enabler for the whole economy. The benefits reaped from the ICT sector need to be translated into advantages for the broader economy. Spreading the digital economy within countries and across the world will ensure that all industries benefit from these technologies. Influential countries like the U.S., Japan, and South Korea can help developing countries by sharing their experiences transitioning IT sector success into general economic success.

Infrastructure

Authors

Developing countries often lack the infrastructure for widespread Internet access. This means that they are unable to take advantage of the benefits of the Internet economy. Multinational development banks like the World Bank and the African Development Bank can support these countries in building infrastructure for increased Internet access.

Enabling economic environment

It is necessary to create an enabling environment for investment in Internet infrastructure in developing markets around the world. Removing regulatory restrictions will encourage competition in the market for Internet service, leading to higher quality and lower costs for users. 

Human capacity building

One-third of the world already has Internet access, but they also need the skills to use the Internet in whatever productive pursuit or social activity they wish to engage in. It is the role of the multistakeholder community to ensure that the benefits of ICT are deployed widely, because investment in networks is also an investment  in human beings.

To learn more about multistakeholder Internet governance, see Stuart N. Brotman’s recent paper.

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