Internet a Key Driver of Sustainable Economic Development
With the advent of technology, we are in the internet age. Saying that digital technologies can significantly and sustainably boost economies and societies, the United States of America launched an initiative led by the Department of State, called “Global Connect” that aims to bring 1.5 billion people online by 2020.
In her remarks at New York City, Under Secretary Catherine Novelli for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment said the internet can boost economies of different sectors in society particularly in financial, health, education, energy, and transportation sectors.
In addition, the World Bank discovered that for every ten percent increase in a country’s Internet penetration, its GDP expands by one to two percent.
A European study said that if there is a tripling of mobile broadband penetration levels across the developing world, it would provide a return of as much as $17 for every $1 spent – that is a 1700% rate of return!
What is Global Connect?
According to Ms. Novelli, the internet is still not accessible to many around the world where 60 percent of the world’s population – or about 4.4 billion people – lack Internet access. In developing countries, it has been found out that only five percent of people at most are connected to the Internet.
“This is where “Global Connect” comes in.” – Ms. Novelli
She said that through this initiative, the US will work with every stakeholder group that touches development – from national governments, development agencies, NGOs and the private sector, to mainstream the view that Internet connectivity is as fundamental to economic development as roads, ports, electricity and other traditional infrastructure.
And here are the goals:
- All countries integrate Internet connectivity as a key part of their own national development strategies;
- International development institutions, such as multilateral development banks and development agencies, prioritize digital access; and
- Innovative industry-driven solutions to extend connectivity are catalyzed and supported.
So What Is the Plan?
According to Ms. Novelli, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC recently announced it will provide up to $250 million in financing for the development of a network of 2,500 telecommunications towers across Burma, which was one of the last places in the world without widespread ICT infrastructure.
“In 2011, only three percent of Burma’s 50 million residents had access to mobile phones.” – Ms. Novelli
But with OPIC’s financial support, a local company named Apollo Towers expects to create the infrastructure to enable 75% of Burma’s people to have mobile access by 2016
OPIC is making similar efforts in Kenya.
The Apolo Towers is known to finance a local provider of solar-powered wireless Internet so millions of rural Kenyans will have digital connectivity for the first time
USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, in conjunction with today’s event, are also affirming their commitments to extend connectivity through development assistance.
More to Come
According to Ms. Novelli, by 2016, the US will bring together governments, development agencies, industry, NGOs and other stakeholders to focus on its efforts to bridge the digital divide. In doing this, we recognize that building internet infrastructure is only one step in digital inclusion.
“Creating a policy environment that sustains a healthy internet is critical for long-term success.” – Ms. Novelli
To broaden its scope, the US also intends to partner with interested countries to develop tailor-made strategies to create the right enabling environments. Through this, entrepreneurship, cross-border information flows and open and competitive marketplaces will also increase.