What must governments around the world do to achieve universal, affordable Internet access for their people? That was the question addressed today at a high-level meeting of the Global Connect Initiative in Washington, DC. The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) — a Web Foundation initiative — was invited to present concrete policy recommendations to meeting attendees. Dr Omobola Johnson, Honourary Chairperson of A4AI, addressed the attendees, which included US Secretary of State John Kerry, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and Ministers of Finance from around the world.
Dr Johnson called on Secretary Kerry, President Kim and the finance ministers present to take three concrete actions:
- Ensure that heads of state prioritise the development and/or implementation of a national ICT plan that includes concrete targets for affordability and gender-equitable access. A4AI’s recent Affordability Report shows that in order for marginalised populations currently priced out of the digital revolution to afford access, we must work toward a “1 for 2” affordability target — 1GB of mobile broadband priced at 2% or less of average monthly income.
- Invest in public access solutions in poor and rural communities, and in digital skills education in public schools. Although developing an open and competitive market has the power to reduce prices and widen access, many of the most marginalised, including women and the poor, will still be unable to afford access. Closing the digital divide and unlocking the benefits of connectivity means enabling access for these populations, and public access programmes (e.g., community WiFi, free or subsidised access in schools and community centres) are critical to doing so.
- Reduce luxury tariffs on ICT devices and services, excess royalties on technology patents, multiple sales taxes on airtime, and other taxes that prioritise short-term revenue at the expense of long-term growth. An approach that considers the job growth and economic growth produced through a diversified ICT sector — and ensures that a fair share of the resulting revenues stay in the country where they are generated — will benefit all.
In her remarks, Dr Johnson said:
“When the Internet is treated as a luxury good, we sacrifice economic growth, jobs, and human potential. To accelerate progress and make universal, affordable access a reality, we must act now.”
We’re convinced that national vision and leadership are the most important ingredients for progress on the road to affordable, universal access, and look forward to seeing the Finance Ministers and other high-level participants of the Global Connect meeting turn these recommendations into action.
Read Dr Johnson’s full statement to the high-level meeting.
The Global Connect Initiative (GCI), launched by the U.S. State Department in September 2015, aims to connect an additional 1.5 billion people to the Internet by 2020 by, among other things, urging governments to recognise that Internet connectivity is critical to economic growth and development and encouraging them to put broadband access at the heart of policies across their development agendas. Today’s meeting, co-hosted by the State Department and the World Bank, brought together over 100 high-level attendees with the express purpose of determining the key steps that finance ministries and multilateral development banks can take to ensure universal, affordable Internet for all.