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Internet Society Statement on the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Summit

25 September 2015

Internet Society President and CEO Kathryn Brown issued the following statement:

This week, the United Nations is hosting the Sustainable Development Summit (SDS) where the international community will embrace a global agenda to alleviate poverty, expand health and education, and preserve our planet for future generations.  This global Agenda is about opportunity - the opportunity to improve the lives of people worldwide through development and partnership. 

At the Internet Society, we believe in the power of the Internet to deliver on that promise. As an unparalleled network of networks that has the potential to connect us all, the Internet can bring opportunity in healthcare, education, business and more. It is our lifeline to a better future.

The Internet is quite simply the biggest opportunity of the 21st century.

The Internet Society is immensely pleased that the Sustainable Development Agenda recognizes that ICTs are a crucial platform for the implementation of these visionary goals and that the Agenda sets an ambitious goal to "significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020". (paragraph 9c of the draft text for the new Sustainable Development Goals).

The link between global development and access to the Internet is very real:

  • The health care community uses the Internet to track emerging disease threats around the globe and can enable patients living in remote areas to access medical information and advice in real-time;
  • Mobile telephony, Internet access and social media are providing global market opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses everywhere;
  • Governments are leveraging the Internet to provide critical services for their populations: disseminating agriculture and health information; offering distance learning opportunities; development of mobile financial services; and establishing mechanisms to provide early warning of natural and man-made disasters;
  • Women that learn ICT skills or start their own businesses are now able to participate in the global information society in ways that were once closed to them.

But, in order to leverage the power of the Internet to accelerate our development agenda, we must not lose sight of a key goal:  Connecting the Next Billion.  Indeed, a recent report by the UN Broadband Commission highlights the challenge: "By the end of 2015, there will still be 57% of the world’s population – or four billion people – still offline." Bridging the digital divide is a crucial step to advancing the Sustainability Agenda.

At the same time, there are many reasons to be optimistic. 

There are now 3 billion people connected to the Internet. It took over two decades for the Internet to reach its first billion users in 2005; five years to reach the second in 2010; and four years to reach the third billionth person in 2014. In Africa alone, we see remarkable improvement in connectivity across the continent – growing from around 7% of the population with Internet access in 2008 to over 20% with Internet access in 2015.

Mobile Internet service already covers at least 48% of the population worldwide and is increasingly the primary means of accessing the Internet, particularly in developing countries (read more on Mobile developments in ISOC’s 2015 Global Internet Report).

Today, the digital economy contributes 5 to 9 percent to total GDP in developed markets, and in developing markets it is growing 15 to 25 percent per year. The accelerating speed of gaining access to the Internet, and its growing impact on society, demonstrate the success and ongoing viability of a collaborative, people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented information society. But building the infrastructure in the least developed countries remains Job 1.

The development community and the Internet technical community must seize the opportunity to join together to overcome the remaining barriers to connectivity, wherever they are in the world.  I am proud to lead a global organization, the Internet Society, that has over twenty years of experience and a deep commitment to this most pressing challenge: bringing the Internet of opportunity to people everywhere on the globe. 

Our experience in this field echoes a key theme in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: no one stakeholder can solve these challenges alone.  Collaboration and partnerships with stakeholders across all segments of society - the so called multistakeholder approach - are key to unlocking the power of ICTs for development.

Collaboration is the path to Sustainable Development.

The Sustainable Development Agenda provides an excellent foundation for discussions at the upcoming ten-year Review of the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December, in New York. It reminds us of the original purpose of the WSIS: achieving a people-centric and development-oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, and share information.  A goal that, ten years later, is more important than ever.

NOTE: Internet Society President & CEO Kathryn Brown will be speaking on Sunday, 27 September 2015, as part of a high-level panel on "Development in the Digital Age" taking place from 11:00-13:00 EDT in Conference Room 3 of the UN Headquarters building. We do not yet have information about whether a live video stream of this side event will be available.

For more information see the following blog posts and pages: