Universal Internet Access for the Next Four Billion

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Despite remarkable increases in connectivity over the last decade, less than half of the world’s population currently has access to the Internet. For the development community, it is increasingly clear that the digital divide is becoming a development divide that, if left unaddressed, could substantially increase inequities both between and within countries.
The vast majority of the unconnected are the urban poor, marginalized groups, and rural communities—precisely the groups the development community is most trying to assist, and those who will risk falling even further behind if left without access.
Recognizing the growing importance of access to the Internet as foundational to global socioeconomic development, the international community has begun to focus more attention on the issue, through both new strategic initiatives and ambitious targets such as that of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve universal access by 2020.
Connecting the Next Four Billion
To better inform investments in access and connectivity by the international development community, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) requested SSG Advisors to assess the global response to increasing access to information and communication technology (ICT) and the Internet in least developed countries (LDCs).
Building on a previous report, titled Connecting the Last Billion: Market Approaches to Increasing Internet Access, and understanding that the business models that were the focus of that assessment were only one part of the solution to the challenge of universal access, SSG sought to better understand the key gaps in the global effort to expand Internet access.
https://i2.wp.com/www.ictworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/connecting... 458w" sizes=" 200px) 100vw, 200px" data-recalc-dims="1" />Connecting the Next Four Billion: Strengthening the Global Response for Universal Internet Access built on existing research to determine primary barriers to access, and used an examination of the landscape of existing efforts and actors to identify gaps in response and steps that decision makers could take to address these gaps.
Barriers and Gaps
Existing literature demonstrated a strong consensus around four key barriers to access: infrastructure, affordability, user capabilities, and incentives. A review of the landscape of actors and initiatives led to a list of seven primary roles that actors are playing to address these barriers: convening, funding, research, advocacy, technology deployment, business model development, and building capacity
This research reveals an encouraging range of efforts, large and small, focused on promoting greater access to the Internet. Some of these efforts are proving effective in bringing ever-larger numbers of users online in real and meaningful ways. Other efforts are helping to shine a light on the access challenge, creating the impetus for policymakers, industry leaders, and others to take action.
Although the international response thus far has been encouraging, our analysis also revealed significant gaps in global response that, if left unaddressed, will slow, or in some cases even impede, progress toward universal access. These include a greater need to operationalize global agendas, promote business models, curate best practices, research new technologies, and fund activities.
Recommendations
Three clear recommendations emerged that would allow the international development actors to take advantage of their respective capabilities and tools in order to serve as catalysts for spurring growth in access for the most vulnerable populations, particularly in LDCs.

  1. Mainstream Access Across the Development Agenda, both through building capacity to make access a priority across development organizations and within host governments, and through the development of an economic impact model to clearly demonstrate the beneficial impacts of increased access.
  2. Amplify Innovative Business Models, through concerted and coordinated efforts to explore and finance successful models.
  3. Develop Consistency in Approaches to Digital Access, through researching and establishing a collection of best practices.

As the global community approaches the third decade of the 21st century, the importance of the Internet in our social, economic, and political lives will only continue to grow. The prospect of billions of the most vulnerable people left without access and, therefore, unable to participate fully in our increasingly digitally intermediated world ought to be cause for alarm for policymakers, industry, and civil society alike.
The recommendations in this report are a call to action for building on the progress to date and ensuring that the global community focuses on Internet access as a foundational element for sustained socioeconomic development.