WASHINGTON — More than four billion people comprise the global offline population. On Monday, May 20, the Digital Global Access Policy Act of 2019, known as the Digital GAP Act, passed in the House of Representatives. The act has since been received in the Senate and has an 86 percent chance of being enacted. If the Digital GAP Act passes in the Senate, it will be sent to the President to be signed into law.
Introduced by Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX-6) with Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX-10), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA-33) and Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA-7), The Digital GAP Act aims to promote Internet access in developing countries and update foreign policy towards the Internet by encouraging developing countries to “improve and secure mobile and fixed access to the Internet.”
“More than three billion people, mostly concentrated in developing countries, still lack access to the internet, unable to take advantage of the countless benefits it has for commerce, democracy, education and health. By encouraging better coordination with the private sector and inclusion of internet infrastructure in general infrastructure projects, this bill will maximize the reach of U.S. assistance and, ultimately, close the digital gap,” stated Rep. Wright. According to the Foreign Affairs Committee, more than 60 percent of the world’s population lacks Internet access, missing out on innovation and American consumer goods. Women and girls are “disproportionately affected” by this digital divide.
Of the offline population, nearly 75 percent reside in 20 developing nations. Low income, rural, female, illiterate and elderly populations are amongst those affected by the gap.
“The internet has had a tremendous economic, social and political impact on those lucky enough to have reliable access to it. But a lack of affordable internet limits the opportunities many people in developing countries have to harness the internet’s transformational power. With the Digital GAP Act, at least 1.5 billion people living in urban and rural areas will be able to access the internet for the first time” said Rep. Lieu.
The act would facilitate the efforts of developing countries to improve their access to the Internet to boost economic growth and innovation, increase employment, curtail inequalities, improve health, education and financial services and encourage democracy. The act would further build-once policies and the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance while assuring effective use of U.S. foreign assistance.
If the Digital GAP Act passes in the Senate and is signed into law, it could increase global output by nearly 6.7 trillion dollars, raising 5 million people out of poverty. By bringing Internet to 600 million women, between 13 and 18 trillion dollars could be contributed to the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of 144 developing countries. Through the cost-effective build-once policies the act promotes, developing countries have the potential to diminish the number of construction activities while installing telecommunications infrastructures. Finally, the act seeks to stimulate the U.S. economy as expanded Internet access benefits both the American economic and U.S. foreign policies, including U.S. goals to address global poverty and promote democracy.
“The Digital GAP Act will support economic growth by accelerating the deployment of Internet infrastructure through the promotion of cost-effective “build-once” policies, partnerships with the private sector, and the removal of harmful barriers to a positive investment climate,” said Rep. McCaul.
The Digital GAP Act was received with a bipartisan push from House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. McCaul and Chairman Rep. Engel. It will has been referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and it is expected to be voted on in the Senate soon. If the Digital GAP Act passes, it will then await presidential signature. To show your support for the Digital GAP Act, email your senators through this template.
– Gwen Schemm