SEATTLE, Washington — The Digital Global Access Policy Act, commonly referred to as the Digital GAP Act of 2019, outlines what Congress would like to see implemented regarding the advancement of global internet access and infrastructure. This legislation places importance on U.S. assistance in bringing about internet access in developing countries. In this vein, the act attempts to foster gender-equitable internet access and encourage other institutions to support increased internet accessibility.
The Digital GAP Act of 2019
The Digital GAP Act promotes internet accessibility for 60% of the world’s population who do not have it. People without internet access will now have this resource to go to school, get a job and become a participant of the global economy. The three purposes of the Digital GAP Act, directly listed in its text are as follows:
- Encourage developing countries to continue the promotion of expanding internet access for the benefit of economic growth, poverty reduction, healthcare, gender inequality and democracy.
- Promote the “build-once” approach to the construction of telecommunications networks.
- Ensure that U.S. monetary assistance and other forms of foreign aid are effectively used to meet these outlined goals.
This legislation also calls the U.S. Department of State, USAID and the Peace Corps to action. The purpose of this is to promote the collaboration between these institutions and other countries, agencies and multilateral institutions.
Internet Usage: Statistics of Disparity
In the text of H.R. 1359 – Digital GAP Act, Congress reports statistical data on internet access regarding poverty, gender inequality and private and public sector investment. Around 4 billion people across the world lack access to the internet. If these people were opened up to the economic opportunities afforded by internet accessibility, that could produce an increased global economic output of $6.7 trillion, in addition to lifting 500 million people out of poverty. Data collected in 2016 showed that while 80% of homes in developed nations had access to the internet, only 40% of households in developing nations had access and just 11% of households in the lowest-income nations had internet access. In developing countries, the number of women online trail the number of men by 23%. Efforts to close the gender gap in internet access would be of great economic benefit to all. Another 600 million women online provide an average of $15.5 billion in annual GDP across 144 low-income countries.
The Global Connective Initiative
The U.S. Department of State launched the Global Connective Initiative in 2015. The initiative set the goal of bringing an additional 1.5 billion people online by 2020. To do this, the initiative encourages the idea that governments, private and public sector investors, international organizations and civil society alike should each play a role in expanding internet networking — as they would any other type of infrastructure. The President of the United States signed an executive order to create the Global Connect International Connectivity Steering Group. This group has created more than 40 different programs that reach more than 30 countries, globally.
A “Build Once” Policy
After the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Digital GAP Act on May 20, 2019, Rep. Wright gave a speech acknowledging the importance of the legislation’s provisions. The main points of the speech recognized the Digital GAP Act’s economically efficient “build once” policy. “Build once” policies aim to coordinate investments in internet and telecommunications infrastructure as well as construction. Organizing public and private sector investments in infrastructure reduces the cost, number and scale of construction projects.
The “build-once” policy is simple. An example of a project utilizing this approach would be the U.S. supporting a $100 million road construction project in a developing nation while inviting the private sector to put in an additional $1 million. That additional $1 million would then be allocated to laying cables for internet networks — utilizing the same process already occurring for road construction. This cuts the cost of the cable construction project by tens of millions of dollars. Moreover, this approach maximizes the impact of any infrastructure project for developing communities and investing businesses alike.
The Status of the Bill
The 2019 update of the Digital GAP Act – H.R. 1359, was introduced in the U.S. House on February 26, 2019, by Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX) and has six co-sponsors. The House passed the bill on May 20 and the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Foreign Relations received it on May 21, 2019. The Digital GAP Act is currently still sitting in committee. Hope remains that institutional and international support of the legislation’s purpose will encourage congressional backing for the improved bill to be passed and implemented.
The goal of improving telecommunication networking in developing nations is to lessen the gap in internet accessibility. Lack of internet infrastructure allows developing communities to fall further behind developed nations in economic growth, education and healthcare. With the ongoing, new coronavirus pandemic — now is an important time to look back at the Digital Global Access Policy Act. Legislators can reflect on how the ability for developing communities to have access to news about healthcare is necessary for taking proper precautions and understanding what is happening in the world around them.
– Hanna Rowell