We appreciate the opportunity to share our perspectives on some of the key aspects oriented to building an enabling environment for access to the internet. Particularly, APC’s input reflects on the reasons why digital exclusion persists and offers some suggestions to address it, which can be summarised as follows:
*Disaggregate the digital divide. Make access inequalities more visible by disaggregating them by disadvantaged groups – particularly women, the poor, rural populations and the less abled.
*Mobile alone is not enough. Expansion of mobile broadband by itself will not meet the connectivity needs of “the rest”. It is necessary to improve the affordability and coverage of both fixed and mobile services, along with the technical and human capacity to ensure reliability, the ability to deploy low-cost locally owned networks, and the ability to use the applications and content effectively.
*It’s about cost. High internet access costs, due to lack of competitive open markets, continue to be among the biggest barriers to increased connectivity. The main reason the internet is still poorly dispersed and unaffordable for many is the poor distribution of basic telecommunications infrastructure and high tariffs for use.
*Raise the bar. Implementing policies to connect the unconnected will also vastly improve the connectivity of those who are already connected but are constrained in their use of the internet by slow speeds, high costs or other barriers, including limited access to relevant content.
*Focusing on infrastructure alone is not the solution. Increased access to infrastructure should be coupled with efforts to address political, economic, social and cultural barriers that prevent people from fully accessing the internet.
*More public spaces. Public access facilities are also an important means of addressing the connectivity needs, but there is limited investment in libraries, telecentres and multi-purpose community centres.
*Policy is interdependent. Indirect factors also limit access to the internet, including limited energy supply, lack of basic ICT literacy, insufficient applications and content of local relevance, and high import duties or other taxes on ICT services.
*Make a plan. Comprehensive and up-to-date national broadband strategies must address policy barriers, promote infrastructure sharing, focus on human development, and promote bottom-up approaches to solving connectivity problems.
*Restricted and filtered access is not real access. Real access should be free of censorship, surveillance, harassment, and any other form of violation of human rights.
*Resources, political will and real commitment with responsibilities around human rights are needed to deploy national policies and regulatory changes which improve affordability and coverage of the internet, to promote and protect the public interest and to ensure the enjoyment of freedoms and rights online.
*it is essential that cybersecurity initiatives protect the ability to access and use the internet to exercise human rights and to enable development. Governments have a critical role to play to make that happen, in coordination and collaboration with non-governmental stakeholders.
We look forward to future collaboration with the ITU.