Global Connect Initiative

What is the Global Connect Initiative?

In September 2015, the U.S. Department of State launched the Global Connect Initiative (GCI) with the aim of catalyzing multistakeholder partnerships to bring 1.5 billion new internet users online by 2020. This initiative to help bridge the digital divide has three interrelated goals:

  1. to encourage finance ministers to make internet access central to all development and growth initiatives

  2. to work in cooperation with multilateral development banks (MDBs) in order to double public and private lending for connectivity and digital technologies

  3. to harness the knowledge, skills, and resources of the tech community to implement solutions for high-speed, affordable broadband access

In April 2016, the first high-level Global Connect meeting was convened by the President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, and U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, to discuss and devise practical ways to make internet connectivity more available, accessible, and affordable around the world. Secretary Kerry urged international investors, multilateral development banks, and finance ministers to consider long-term contributions they can make to integrate connectivity projects into their development plans and strategies, underscoring the essential value of the internet to achieve economic prosperity in the 21st century. At the meeting, 65 initiatives were announced to support future connectivity projects valued at more than $20 billion in investments. Thus far, GCI has received dozens of expressions of support from governments, industry, and civil society.

How does it relate to the Global Development Agenda?

The Global Connect Initiative was announced two days after the United Nations (UN) unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to eliminate poverty and hunger and increase access to education and health services by 2030. Recent data demonstrates that the realization of the SDGs will rely heavily on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to promote economic and social transformation, as well as fundamental human rights, including access to knowledge and freedom of expression.

Global Connect presents a unique opportunity for stakeholders to enable and accelerate progress on all 17 SDGs with the help of internet connectivity and many of the goals are in fact directly related to connectivity. For instance, a key target for SDG 9 calls to significantly increase access to ICTs and provide universal and affordable internet access in least developed countries by 2020. Additionally, SDG 17 includes a target to ensure that technology aids the implementation of all other goals. It is clear from the UN commitments and Global Connect that internet connectivity should be prioritized in the international development context by donors, recipients, governments, the tech community, and international organizations.

Where we stand

Public Knowledge has supported and engaged with the Global Connect Initiative since the beginning and has added value to it by advocating for clearer affordable access and human rights commitments. Respect for privacy and the freedom of expression must go hand in hand with the drive to connection.

Specifically, in September 2015, PK joined a diverse group of public interest and civil society organizations in publishing a letter of support for the initiative. In this letter, we outlined our belief that we need more effective policies and time-bound, actionable commitments from governments and international organizations to promote affordable and universal connectivity. Examples include: ensuring access to radio spectrum; encouraging infrastructure sharing and minimizing the barriers to entry for access providers with new technologies; better and targeted subsidies; direct investment in infrastructure roll out; and more transparent and accountable public-private partnerships.

At the high-level Global Connect meeting in April 2016, a letter was presented to Finance Ministers from around the world to urge increased access to rights-respecting ICTs and broadband connectivity. In it, we encouraged Global Connect’s partner countries to work together to prioritize internet connectivity across regional and functional practices in MDBs, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Inter-American Development Bank, to help prioritize the inclusion of ICTs in every country’s development plans. We also call for Human Rights Impact assessments and that countries clearly support projects and investments that empower local communities and face digital divide.

However, we know that these are only a series of first steps to be taken and that connectivity alone is not sufficient. The internet has become an essential forum in the promotion and protection of human rights and development, but users are increasingly being tracked, surveilled, and censored on insecure, restricted platforms that contribute to infringement of their basic rights. To ensure long-term protection of rights online, human rights principles should be guaranteed wherever internet infrastructure is being built out.

Watch PK’s Vice President of International Policy, Carolina Rossini, speak about the importance of integrating human rights by design in broadband policies and strategies.

And find the complete April 2016 meeting reports here.

What is the role of civil society?

Global Connect presents a timely opportunity for civil society and other stakeholders to work together to narrow the digital divide and support access to rights-respecting ICTs and broadband connectivity. Most importantly, it gives civil society a chance to targetly intervene on how funding for connectivity is prioritized and deployed. Civil society is in a unique position to advocate for transparent, responsible investments, hold governments and institutions accountable for their actions and commitments, and ensure that safeguards to preserve human rights go hand in hand with connectivity strategies and projects moving forward. You can engage directly with the initiative or also with the development banks that are focused on your region.