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Connecting the World 7 June 2016

Putting the Internet at the Heart of Africa’s Future

Kathryn Brown
By Kathryn BrownFormer President / CEO

The Internet changes everything.

It connects one person to another, one community to another, one nation to another. It allows for innovation and the delivery of healthcare, education, financial and other government services.  It allows us to see places we may never have had the chance to see and for people to become friends with those who would have otherwise been strangers. It is an Internet of Opportunity.

The Internet is life changing. So much so that all 193 world leaders at the United Nations summit in September 2015 agreed that connectivity was so important they made it a concrete target as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Today, the total number of people online is around 3.4 billion, which is a major achievement for the world.

But that also means nearly four billion people, 57% worldwide, are not connected to the Internet because of a range of issues, including a lack of content, skills, availability or unaffordable access.

This is still a shared global challenge, and much of that challenge is keenly felt in Africa.

This is why the Internet Society is participating in the 4th African Internet Summit in Botswana’s capital Gaborone this week. This annual meeting brings together Internet savvy people from all sectors. Business, tech, governments, policy, and civil society. It gives us an opportunity to collaborate on how to accelerate access and empower everyone on the Continent through the Internet.

Beyond Access

This is an important and exciting time, especially when one considers that Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. The Continent sits today at a tipping point, poised to take full advantage of the digital revolution and to make a technological leap forward.

We believe that building a better, stronger Internet by Africa, for Africa will hinge on two key considerations – the ability of stakeholders to work together and having the right policy frameworks in place to support Internet growth and adoption.

Most African countries are already pursuing progressive and urgent policies of creating infrastructure, capability, and skills to connect the unconnected. For example, they are putting in place Internet Exchange Points to keep local traffic locally and to avoid costly transits through Europe or America. But more importantly, Africa has a growing understanding that in many cases, cost and availability are no longer the only barriers to access.

Rather, it’s the need for education about the benefits of Internet access and online skills and training that stand in the way. This is an important evolution that all stakeholders should analyze, ensuring that potential new users get the skills they need to make the best use of the Internet and that the Internet has the most relevant content for them.

The next wave of policies can help adoption and use of the Internet catch up with availability.

A Framework for Growth

The needs across the African region are so broad and so different that a single government, organization or company cannot address them all.

Building on decades of experience developing enabling environments with local communities and governments, we’ve observed the importance of adopting a holistic approach to Access, encompassing all stakeholders. Private investment, progressive government policies and user empowerment are the pillars of a scalable framework that will speed deployment and adoption of the Internet across Africa.

Together with our colleagues who are gathered in Botswana this week, The Internet Society understands the enormous potential for the Internet in Africa, and for the Internet to define Africa’s future. We know that we need to continue to build strong foundations today in order for Africa to take advantage of everything the Internet offers tomorrow. The Internet Society is deeply committed to partnering with our colleagues at The African Internet Summit to advance this bright future. We look forward to a productive week.

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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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