On Wednesday, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Driving Innovation and Growth in Internet Technology and Launching Universal Access to the Global Economy (DIGITAL AGE) Act (S. 3206), which seeks to expand Internet access and quality in developing countries with the support of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

Last month, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the Global Connect Initiative, which focuses on “encouraging foreign countries to prioritize Internet connectivity . . . promoting the formation of region-specific multi-sector working groups to encourage technical and regulatory best practices, and encouraging the development of digital literacy programs in developing nations.”  The DIGITAL AGE Act would build on that effort by directing the State Department, USAID and OPIC to work with partner governments, global financial institutions and the private sector to (1) encourage a competitive market for investment and innovation in global Internet infrastructure;  (2) promote “effective, efficient and transparent” spectrum allocation; (3) promote affordable Internet access devices; (4) expand public access facilities; and (5) encourage adoption of infrastructure sharing, spectrum re-use and other flexible use options.  The president would be required to develop “a comprehensive, integrated, multi-year strategy encouraging the efforts of developing countries to expand access to the Internet . . . as a means to catalyze innovation and economic growth.” The White House would be required to report to Congress on that strategy within 180 days of enactment and annually thereafter. 

In a press statement, Markey noted that, while more than 80% of households in developed countries have access to the Internet, only 34% of households in developing countries and a mere 7% of households in the least developed countries had such access at the end of 2015.  Asserting that “American ingenuity created the Internet, and American investment should help bring its power to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries,” Markey said:  “I look forward to working with my colleagues to bring the tremendous potential of the internet to the nations of the world who need it most.”