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Billions of people are still offline.

According to the most recent statistics from the International Telecommunication Union, 53% the world is still lacking access to the Internet and all the opportunities it brings. This week at the annual STI Forum in the United Nations headquarters in New York, the Internet Society shared its views on one of the solutions: to ensure that people can connect themselves and their communities.

The  STI Forum is an important part of the United Nation's 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. It is designed to facilitate a multi-stakeholder dialogue on new ways to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  It is a chance for people outside of the government to share ideas and views on things that could help put a framework in place to guide the international community's efforts and development policies in the years to come. 

Getting billions of people online will be a challenge. It will mean more investment in infrastructure, reducing language barriers, increasing locally relevant content, promoting digital literacy, and addressing a wide range of other issues. A core problem is affordability and market forces that are unable to expand access to rural and underserved communities. 

A part of the solution is to make sure people can connect themselves and their communities. Community Networks offers a way to do this.  Community Networking offers a way for anyone, anywhere and regardless of background, to be able to build an Internet connection as long as they have the right tools and support.

But no one can do it alone. It needs people to work together to access technology and skills and to be recognized as a partner and solution to bring more people online. Decision makers need to think differently about their policies to connect the remaining billions and support innovative and locally driven solutions. 

Access to the Internet is about more than technology alone. It is increasingly about the opportunities. It is a platform that enables new means of organizing our societies, whether it concerns healthcare, education or businesses, and will be a cornerstone of the various strategies to make progress on the SDGs.  

If we want to end things like extreme poverty, boost education, or help close the gender gap we need Internet access for everyone, everywhere.

But to succeed, we need people around the world to join us in making an urgent call to governments to support new, innovative policies to connect the next billion.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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