national security

The challenge - and necessity - of bringing all the world's people online

In our paper, A Laptop in Every Backback, which we released last year, Alec Ross and I wrote:

It is the core premise of this paper that the emergence of a single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and satellite technology, rapidly tying the world's people together is one of the seminal events of the early 21st century. Increasingly, the world's commerce, finance, communications, media and information are flowing through this network. Half of the world's 6 billion people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive mobile phones.

Each year more of the world's people become connected to the network, its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do. Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and fulfillment for the people of the world.

We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world's people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring. Bringing this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.

An article from the Economist this week reviews the remarkable and historic progress made - and the challenges that remain - in bringing more people on to this global communications network. It begins:

THE mobile-phone industry returned from its mammoth annual trade show, 3GSM, held earlier this month in Barcelona, gloating over its successful year. More than 3 billion (almost half the world's population) now have mobiles, and the price of a phone has sunk as low as $25. There are now more mobile-phone subscribers in poor countries than rich ones. That would have been unimaginable a decade ago. 

Mobile phones have improved poor people's lives tremendously, from providing political news and health-care information in remote areas to fuelling commerce. Enthusiasm over bringing technology to the world's poor has been matched in the computing industry, with many companies now selling low-cost laptop computers (so far around $200, but poised to drop much further). But the next digital hurdle-providing internet access-will be much harder to surmount, for both economic and geographical reasons.

The article's findings are based on a new report from the OECD, GLOBAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERNET ACCESS DEVELOPMENTS.

In the coming year I hope that our community can make this conversation about providing all the world's people access to the global communications network a much higher priority for our nation's leaders. These are extraordinary times, full of possibilities for America and the people of the world. In years since the fall of the communism more people have been lifted out of poverty, ignorance, dispair and isolation than perhaps any other time in human history. But as this article lays out there is still much to do, more people to engage, more countries to help in making the difficult transition to a modern state. And however these nations and peoples move closer to adopting the American formula - democracy, free markets, liberty, the rule of law - they will also need to embrace the transformative power which access to this global communications brings for their societies and citizens.

We will be looking at ideas and initiatives like these at our March 12th conference in DC, A Moment of Transformation? - I hope you will join us.

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