WASHINGTON, D.C. — On June 21, 2016, the House Foreign Affairs Committee introduces the H.R. 5537, Digital Global Access Policy Act of 2016, which aims to improve global internet access, especially in developing countries.
The Digital GAP Act proposes to provide first-time internet access for at least 1.5 billion people by 2020. The bill also promotes the use of the internet as a tool for trade and recommends the removal of various restrictions on global internet access.
Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Ranking Member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., believe that the internet and the opportunities it provides can increase economic growth, bridge gaps in health and education, and reduce gender inequality. “Without internet access, the developing world is at risk of falling further behind,” they said in a joint statement upon H.R. 5537’s introduction.
The Digital GAP Act is a bipartisan effort. Co-sponsors include Rep. Cathy McMorris of Washington, the House Republican Conference Chair and Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York.
Currently, 60 percent of the world’s population do not have access to the internet. Of note, four billion of those people live in developing countries.
According to Forbes, the lack of modern infrastructure is the reason for such limited access. The developing world has only 77 internet exchange points, compared with 134 in developed regions.
According to their estimates, global internet prices would need to drop by 90 percent to get every global citizen in the world online. These internet exchange points provide faster and cheaper connections and are essential to making internet access more affordable.
The Digital GAP Act addresses this fact and has, as one of its provisions, the construction of internet infrastructure, along with broader development projects.
Internet access can go a long way toward reducing poverty. By connecting people in developing countries to the global market, it can contribute to national economic growth.
According to the Hindustan Times, 29 percent of India’s population has internet access, but it can see its GDP increase by $1 trillion in 2020 if the internet reaches everyone.
While the Digital GAP Act is not sufficient by itself, the bill is a critical first step toward increasing global internet access and creating advancement opportunities for the world’s poor.
– Philip Katz