Remarks at the Social Good Master Class

Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda
Deputy Assistant Secretary and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
New York City
September 22, 2014

Remarks as prepared

Good Afternoon. I appreciate the opportunity to join you here at the Social Good Master Class. I love the energy, the spirit of collaboration, and the celebration of innovation and technology that this event engenders.

Your intellect and passion drive all of this work and innovation. And the work we do at the State Department on public policy and global communications intends to help ensure an open and secure platform on which people like you, all over the world, can connect, cross pollinate, and help change the world. We are joined in that effort by many people, representing many different cultures and regions, including many of you, who believe in the power of the Internet as a force for social good.

We are working with the global Internet community to ensure that everyone can benefit from the potential of the Internet, fueled by innovation, free from censorship, and unfettered by centralized regulation or control. And we believe this mission and movement are manifestly in the global public interest.

Before I became active in technology policy, I took for granted some of the technical aspects of the global Internet and its open architecture. Over the past few years, I have come to truly appreciate that the Internet is global and open by design, not by accident. And it is up to all of us to ensure it stays that way since its power and potential are derived from a governance system that is voluntary, distributed among many stakeholders, and deliberative.

Those of us privileged enough to have access to robust networks use the Internet, depend on it, and love it. But many of us are unaware of the work that goes into it every day, to make it work and operate the way it does. That work is what drives the Internet as an engine for growth and progress.

The Internet is essentially a variety of networks voluntarily connecting to other networks based upon agreed protocols. Thanks to this model, the Internet has grown at an astonishing rate. By the end of 2014, there will be nearly 3 billion Internet users globally and an estimated 5 billion by 2020. A 2012 report projects that by 2016, the Internet economy will reach $4.2 trillion. And its very existence is propelling growth.

In developed markets, the Internet contributes 5 to 9 percent of total GDP. And, in developing markets, the Internet economy is growing at 15 to 25 percent per year, acting as a springboard for growth across economic sectors, making people more productive, prosperous, and informed.

Let me give a few examples of how services built on the open Internet are changing lives:

  • Coursera is a free education service that offers hundreds of courses online from top universities and organizations worldwide. Currently, the site has more than nine million users – 65% of which are outside of the United States.
  • DrumNet is a mobile service that allows farmers to check the current market prices for their produce at a range of locations. When a farmer readies his crop for sale, he sends a text message to DrumNet. And he uses the response to choose the market that will give him the best return for his efforts. This type of connectivity reduces market inefficiencies and ensures the best price for both consumers and sellers. Thanks to this service, Kenyan farmers using DrumNet have been earning as much as 33%-40% more for their crops.
  • The DrumNet concept has also been employed in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Nokia mobile phones come equipped with applications that farmers employ to get information about crops, weather and market prices. These services offer an essential tool to farmers – market information in real time.
  • Thanks to wireless technologies, people all over the world also have access to better health care. Two years ago, a 24-year-old engineer from Cameroon developed a computer tablet, called the “Cardiopad.” With this innovative device, thousands of African patients, who live hundreds of miles from clinics, may now receive cardiac exams.

These examples and others demonstrate the power of the Internet as a platform for social good. But this is not really an audience that needs to be convinced of the value of the platform.

My point is this: given these positive benefits and attributes and the many uses of the global Internet, we must all be good stewards of it so that my children and yours can build on the work you are doing today. To do that, we need to educate ourselves and become active in the ongoing global deliberations over the best way forward for the Internet’s governance and we must commit ourselves to its full global deployment.

We are asking you to urge your governments to adopt policies and practices that help ensure the Internet’s universal availability and accessibility in the future and enable its growth. In the United States, we have achieved nearly universal access and are working hard toward universal adoption. But the Internet’s growth potential, in terms of human connectivity, lies elsewhere, in the regions of the world where too many remain without a connection.

I respectfully submit that all countries have enormous potential to benefit from the Internet, but those countries with limited connectivity will continue to lack access as long as building the networks and investing in the infrastructure is prohibitive due to regulatory red tape or protected incumbents. And efforts to use government-only processes to regulate the flow of data or dictate network protocols threaten to stifle our potential to extend the network to everyone.

There are some in authoritarian regimes that want centralized control to protect themselves from criticism and control civic discourse. There are also others who believe that centralized control would lead to more egalitarian growth. The first are misguided. And in our opinion, the second are mistaken.

There is an important debate and discussion going on right now over these matters, and if it goes wrong, it could hurt those who need the Internet the most. And that is unacceptable because the greatest potential for Internet growth is shifting to the developing world.

The number of Internet users in developing countries is growing at five times the rate as in developed countries. Today, emerging market economies have a great opportunity to “leapfrog” to innovative uses of the Internet that can boost growth, just as some developing countries skipped landline telephones and moved directly to modern mobile telephony. And we should encourage and propel the market forces and investment that are making that possible through incentives rather than regulation or controls.

Beyond the effort to connect the world, we believe that we must also strengthen and protect the ability of citizens to access information on the Internet regardless of where they live and free from interference. The beauty of the Internet is that each new user is both a source and recipient of information, goods, and services, as well as a participant in the discourse. If the Internet becomes walled-off, say, as a result of prescriptive policies, then the marginal benefits of continued growth will be diminished for everyone. Policies impacting Internet use in one country have cascading effects on users in other countries. This provides a reason for us all to cooperate in promoting the Internet’s openness.

As you all have been discussing here, technology is initiating positive change in all aspects of our lives. It is not an end itself, but it can and should be a tool for the pursuit of social good. The Internet is the base of the pyramid for additional innovation that will drive a more prosperous, safer, and cleaner world. We need you and your voice to help protect and preserve it.

As I close my remarks today, I wanted to highlight and we wanted to show the State Department’s recent video as part of our Internet Governance Advocacy Campaign, with the key message that “the Internet belongs to everyone.”

I would ask that the organizers show the video and then I would be happy to take questions.