IEEE Takes a Stand on Universal Access to the Internet

The organization is working to close the digital divide

15 September 2016

The IEEE Board of Directors recently approved IEEE’s first position statement on universal Internet access, affirming that “IEEE endorses the goal of universal access to the Internet and supports national initiatives and international collaborations designed to expand access to the billions of people in both developed and developing countries around the world who do not have access to the Internet.”

Statistics confirm that more than half of the world’s population does not access the Internet and that the so-called digital divide between developed and underdeveloped nations requires action to help close the gap.

According to an International Telecommunication Union report on information and communication technology (ICT), “Data show that in 2016, over two thirds of the population lives within an area covered by a mobile broadband network and that ICT services continue to become more affordable. Despite these unprecedented opportunities, more than half of all people are not yet using the Internet and large differences in terms of broadband speeds and quality exist.”

IEEE’S INVOLVEMENT

In support of national initiatives and international collaborations tackling the challenges to connect the unconnected, the new policy states: “Promoting universal Internet access is inherent in IEEE’s mission of fostering technology innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.”

The IEEE Internet Initiative’s mission includes increasing IEEE’s involvement and contributions in global technology policies. The initiative’s subcommittee on engagements met more than 20 times over the past year to discuss an appropriate process for developing the policy. The subcommittee worked with representatives from a number of countries to better understand geographic, cultural, and jurisdictional differences.

It was important for the subcommittee to spend that amount of time to discuss various viewpoints when differences emerged. The group is proud of incorporating a variety of technology disciplines, along with ethical, policy, and societal perspectives presented by IEEE volunteers and staff.

The policy statement says: “IEEE calls upon the worldwide community of engineers, scientists, industry leaders, policy experts, and others to apply their knowledge and skills to address the challenge of universal access to the Internet, and the associated issues of security, safety, trust, privacy, governance, participation, fairness, and prosperity.”

The IEEE Internet Initiative is also joining policy discussions in support of the recently adopted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable Internet access by 2020 in the least developed countries. The World Bank and the U.S. Global Connect International Connectivity Steering Group are also involved.

To further the discussions, IEEE has been hosting several forums including the Global Connect Stakeholders event held in April in conjunction with the World Bank, the U.S. State Department, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Internet Inclusion: Advancing Solutions events are scheduled for 15 September in Delhi, India, and 5 and 6 October in Washington, D.C.

The IEEE Internet Technology Policy (ITP) Community on IEEE Collabratec is drafting a white paper describing opportunities and challenges in providing universal access. The effort grew out of an IEEE Experts in Technology and Policy forum in India in March that addressed universal access for social and economic inclusion. Additional ETAP forums and other resources on Internet governance, cybersecurity, and privacy will continue to bring together technology developers and policy experts.

TO BE CONTINUED

We have successfully taken steps to address universal access. With proven processes now in place and a position statement, we plan to amplify IEEE’s collective voice. As the initiative continues, it will tackle various aspects of Internet policy issues on the local, regional, and international levels, providing neutral technical information for sound policy decisions that foster innovation.

IEEE Senior Member Greg Adamson, chair of the IEEE Internet Initiative’s external engagements and contributions subcommittee, is president of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology and chair of the IEEE Special Interest Group on Blockchain Technology.

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