Philanthropists, Aid Groups Call for Internet Access for All by 2020

Tech industry philanthropists, development aid groups, and other advocates have signed a declaration calling for the implementation of universal Internet access by 2020 as part of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

Promoted by ONE and Facebook and signed by forty-two individuals and organizations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Earth Institute, Arianna Huffington, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Save the Children, Ushahidi, and Jimmy Wales, the statement calls on world leaders to ensure progress toward the SDGs' target 9.c, which calls for universal and affordable access to the Internet in the least developed countries by 2020. UN member states unanimously adopted the seventeen SDGs and one hundred and sixty-nine targets at a special summit on September 25.

"Internet access is essential for achieving humanity's [Global Goals]," the "Connectivity Declaration" states. "When people have access to the tools and knowledge of the Internet, they have access to opportunities that make life better for all of us." Noting that half the global population, especially women and girls, currently have no Internet access, it calls on "leaders and innovators from all countries, industries, and communities to work together as one to make universal Internet access a reality by 2020."

"Internet access is a catalyst for creating a world of greater freedom, fairness and dignity for all peoples, everywhere," said ONE co-founder and global executive director Jamie Drummond. "Every country must now agree an urgent plan to implement the Global Goals, and mission-critical within those strategies is connectivity for all."

At the UN Private Sector Forum held on September 26, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also announced that his company would help the UN bring Internet connections to refugee camps, but did not offer details, the New York Times reports. Zuckerberg's has partnered with phone carriers to offer free access to Facebook and other websites in India and other developing countries, but this past April, sixty-five organizations complained in an open letter to Zuckerberg that the project violated the principles of net neutrality in the guise of "access for impoverished people."

"It's not all altruism," Zuckerberg told the Times, in an implicit acknowledgment that realizing universal Internet access, including in refugee camps, is also good for Facebook's bottom line. "We all benefit when we are more connected."