State Dept. Launches Global Connect Initiative

Wants 1.5 billion people online worldwide by 2020

The State Department has made bridging the global digital divide a priority.

State on Sept. 27 launched a new initiative, Global Connect, with the goal of connecting 1.5 billion people to the Internet worldwide by 2020.

During her tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton declared Internet freedom a basic global value and foreign policy goal , but to have that freedom, the world needs to have access to the Internet, State suggested in declaring its mission to connect the world. In addition, last spring, Secretary John Kerry talked about Internet openness and security in a speech in Korea where he provided the general outlines of Global Connect mission, according to the State Department.

Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli announced the initiative at a speech to the UN. "We hope to develop country-specific strategies that can create enabling environments that spur connectivity and also entrepreneurship, cross-border information flows and open and competitive marketplaces," she said.

"In doing this, we recognize that building internet infrastructure is only one step in digital inclusion," she said. "Creating a policy environment that sustains a healthy Internet is critical for long-term success."

Given that the White House strongly supported classifying Internet access as a common carrier service, presumably exporting the Open Internet regulatory model could be one of those strategies for sustaining the Obama Administration's idea of a healthy environment.

She said that U.S. development agencies--Overseas Private Investment Corporation, USAID--will "begin to make Internet access a top priority in their work around the world and "urge" banks to treat Internet as essential to every country's infrastructure, which means lending them money to help grow that infrastructure.

"We will also partner with other governments from highly connected countries and enlist their expertise. We will work with private industry which has created innovative solutions to connect people in remote areas," she said. "In short, we will pursue an “all of the above” approach."

State cited some of those companies it said backed the initiative, which included Facebook, Dell, Ericsson, IBM, HP, Intel and Microsoft.

Robert  Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), had its own idea for how to spur Internet deployment and what should be atop State's list--cut taxes and tariffs.

"Access to the Internet and use of information and communications technology (ICT) is fundamental for growth in emerging economies.

Increasing a nation’s productivity is critical for improving living standards, and in today’s innovation economy, ICT tools like the Internet are the path," he said. "When it comes to government policy, the single most important thing a nation can do to spur Internet access and adoption is eliminate taxes and tariffs on ICT goods and services. As ITIF wrote in its ranking of 125 nations on the level of government-imposed ICT taxes and tariffs, when you add extra costs to ICT products for consumers or businesses, you discourage their use.

If we want widespread Internet access, nations need to be lowering barriers, not implementing self-defeating taxes and tariffs."

“There is tremendous potential for digital technologies to drive economic growth, innovation, and increased living standards, particularly in the developing world,” said Information Technology Industry Council President Dean Garfield. “We congratulate the State Department for its leadership in stimulating this conversation and for providing a roadmap for the international community - both in the public and private sectors - to make progress on these issues.”