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Despite advances over the last decade, more than four billion people around the world still do not have access to the Internet, and the vast majority of those who are disconnected come from poor and marginalized communities in some of the least developed countries. If left unaddressed, this digital divide could increase the inequities between and within countries, leading to an even greater development divide. Through strategic targets like the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the international development community has begun to focus its attention on achieving universal internet access by 2020.

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SSG Advisors, along with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), hosted a conference at Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, DC, to launch a new report: “Connecting the Next Four Billion: Strengthening the Global Response for Universal Internet Access.” The report serves as a call to action for universal internet access to become a foundational element in socioeconomic development.  More than 100 representatives convened at the center from policy organizations, implementers, private sector companies, donors, and impact investors to discuss connectivity and access for rural and marginalized communities around the world.

The event featured expert speakers, including James Bernard, Director of Strategic Partnerships at SSG Advisors; Jane Coffin, Director of Development Strategy of The Internet Society; Lance Condray, Infrastructure Strategist of Facebook; Jonathan Dolan, Team Lead of Digital Inclusion of USAID; Jonathan Donner, Senior Director of Research of Caribou Digital; Paul Garnett, Director of Affordable Access Initiatives of Microsoft; John Garrity, Senior Connectivity Advisor of USAID; Beth Gertz, Senior Strategy Advisors of DIAL; Priya Jaisinghani, Director for the Center of Digital Development at USAID; Samia Melhem, Global Lead of Digital Development from The World BankPaul Mitchell, Director from the Center for Digital Development at USAID; Nilmini Rubin, Vice President of International Development of Tetra Tech; Kate Wilson, CEO of DIAL and Christopher Yoo, Founding Director of 1 World Connected and Professor of University of Pennsylvania.

Connecting the Next Four BillionConference participants discussed a broad range of topics, from the barriers to connectivity, learning from past successes and failure, growing trends in the ICT industry, and amplifying innovative business models and technologies.

In the report, SSG Advisors made three primary recommendations for helping connect the next four billion people.  In order to achieve this, it’s critical that the international development community:

Mainstream access into the development agenda, so that donor- and government-led investments across all sectors (health, agriculture, education, etc.) include an access component;

Amplify new business models that allow access to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid;

Develop more consistency in approaches to digital access, so that we can learn better from past successes and failures.

As one participant said, “Technology is providing new pathways out of poverty.” SSG Advisors is pleased to be a part of a global community that will contribute to the discussion of how government, development agencies, and technology companies can come together address the global digital divide.

The “Connecting the Next Four Billion” report was also highlighted in a Devex article, titled “How to Fill the Gaps in Response to the Digital Divide” and in “On the Issues,” blog post by Microsoft.

If you would like to discuss the report’s findings or would like to play a role in increasing connectivity and access, please contact James Bernard at [email protected].

By Dominica Zhu