In remarks before the United Nations on Sunday, Catherine Novelli, the State Department’s undersecretary for economic growth, outlined the U.S. government’s goal of bridging the digital divide on a global scale with the launch of a new initiative, known as Global Connect, that would expand Internet connectivity to 1.5 billion people worldwide by 2020.

While significant progress has been made to boost broadband deployment both in the U.S. and abroad, Novelli lamented that 60% of the world’s population of 4.4 billion still lacks Internet access and that only five percent of residents in developing countries are connected to the web. Stressing that the Internet “can only be an engine for inclusive growth if it is available, accessible and affordable for everyone,” Novelli explained that Global Connect will “work with every stakeholder group that touches development—from national governments, development agencies, NGOs and the private sector, to mainstream the view that Internet connectivity is as fundamental to economic development as roads, ports, electricity and other traditional infrastructure.” According to Novelli, the State Department will begin working with stakeholders early next year in achieving the following goals: (1) integration of Internet connectivity as a “key part” of national development strategies, (2) prioritization of digital access by international development institutions, and (3) development of “innovative industry-driven solutions to extend connectivity.” Adding that the U.S. also intends to partner with interested countries “to develop tailor-made strategies to create the right enabling environments,” Novelli predicted that such strategies “will not only spur connectivity, but also entrepreneurship, cross-border information flows and open and competitive marketplaces.” 

As she confirmed the commitment of USAID, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and other U.S. development groups “to make Internet access a top priority in their work around the world,” Novelli further maintained that the creation of an optimal policy environment “is critical for long-term success.” Agreeing that, “there is tremendous potential for digital technologies to drive economic growth, innovation and increased living standards, particularly in the developing world,” Information Technology Industry Council President Dean Garfield congratulated the State Department “for its leadership . . . and for providing a roadmap for the international community.”