Statement by the United States of America at the WSIS+10 High Level Meeting

Catherine A. Novelli
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment 
WSIS+10 High Level Meeting, UN Headquarters
New York City
December 15, 2015

Good afternoon. I would like to start by acknowledging the leadership of the President of the General Assembly, and the Permanent Representatives from the United Arab Emirates and Latvia for serving as co-facilitators for this important review. Thank you for devoting so much time to making this High Level Meeting a success.

We congratulate the negotiators on reaching a consensus that builds on the first WSIS meeting ten years ago and establishes a strong foundation for the next ten years, based on multi-stakeholder collaboration. Importantly, the resolution recognizes that multi-stakeholder collaboration should foster economic development as well as an information society where human dignity is respected. In that regard, we are particularly pleased that the mandate for the Internet Governance Forum has been extended for ten years.

At the first WSIS meetings in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005, the information revolution was still just beginning. Only 12 percent of the global population was online. It was mainly concentrated in North America and Europe and on personal computers. Smartphones were still years away from widespread use. If you lived in the developing world, Internet access, if available was prohibitively expensive.

What a difference a decade makes. Today, digital technologies are the foundation for economic growth and social development. More than three billion people – about 40 percent of the world’s population – have Internet access with the number of Internet users in developing countries almost doubling in the past five years.

These are significant achievements that have improved millions of people’s lives.

In part, this growth was encouraged by the framework for multi-stakeholder cooperation laid out at the original WSIS ten years ago.

That gathering encouraged bottom-up investment and innovation, instead of top-down governmental control.

This multi-stakeholder model encouraged and facilitated the dynamism and innovation of the technology industry that we see today. There are at least three clear reasons why this is the case.

First, intergovernmental institutions often lack the capacity and expertise to make decisions quickly, a quality incompatible with “Internet speed.”

Second, multi-stakeholder processes include the crucial views of all essential stakeholders in international Internet policy, not just governments.

Finally, greater governmental control could allow repressive regimes to advance policies for censorship or content controls on the web – which is anathema to what the Internet should be about.

We are pleased by the clear reaffirmation of the WSIS process, and we look forward to do our part to help achieve the WSIS vision of a “people-centered, inclusive, and development-oriented Information Society.”

To that end, the State Department, working with all stakeholders, recently launched the “Global Connect” initiative that aims to bring an additional 1.5 billion people online by 2020.

Through this effort, we will work with every stakeholder group that touches development—including 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.

Global Connect aims to achieve this expansion in global connectivity by working on three tracks:

(1) first, encourage countries to integrate Internet connectivity as a key part of their national development strategies and to adopt policies that will unlock digital growth;

(2) second, encourage international development institutions, such as multilateral development banks and development agencies, to prioritize digital access; and

(3) finally, champion innovative industry-driven solutions to extend connectivity.

Since our launch in September, we are thrilled that governments, businesses, and organizations from around the world have expressed strong support for Global Connect and its principles for international connectivity. Part of this international support reflects the understanding that digital technologies can only be a force to alleviate poverty and bring opportunity if people have access to them.

Towards that end, the State Department will welcome key stakeholders, along with Ministers from the developed and developing world, to the Global Connect Conference in Washington, DC on the margins of the World Bank/IMF annual meetings in April.

With your help, we can build greater momentum towards fulfilling the core aims of WSIS and extending the benefits of connectivity to underserved communities across the world.

Thank you.