World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee is using the 32nd birthday of his invention to call for a global push to improve the connectivity of the young post-COVID.
In a blog post today, as part of the #WebChampions campaign, Berners-Lee celebrates the young people who are stepping up to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges from COVID-19, to inequality, to climate change.
However, many youngsters are attempting to tackle global issues without adequate connectivity.
As the world focuses on trying to “build back better” from the pandemic, Berners-Lee and Web Foundation co-founder Rosemary Leith are calling for a global focus on expanding and improving the connectivity which helped many of us continue to live, work, campaign, and learn throughout the pandemic.
“As we repair and rebuild, we have an opportunity to reimagine our world and create something better,” wrote Berners-Lee and Leith. “The web’s power to catalyse change can and must help shape the world we want.”
According to the International Telecommunication Union, around one-third of young people have no internet access whatsoever. Many more have poor connections or lack the devices or amount of data needed to thrive unhindered.
Matthew O’Neill, Head of Networks at NTT DATA UK, said:
“As the pandemic has made clear, there remains a huge discrepancy in connectivity and broadband speeds across the globe.
Over the past 12 months, an increase in pressure and reliance on online services has thrown these gaps into stark relief – an unavoidable call to action for governments and service providers worldwide to work together to address the problem.”
Around 2.2 billion young people are estimated to have lacked the stable internet access needed to continue their education during the pandemic.
Fortunately, it seems an end is finally in sight to this pandemic thanks to the tireless work of scientists and medical staff around the world—but none of us can predict when the next will hit. And it will. The best we can do is learn lessons so we’re better prepared next time.
“Connectivity has proved itself to be absolutely essential during the coronavirus crisis, keeping lines of communication open and helping to maintain some sort of normality,” added O’Neill. “With remote working set to remain in place long into the ‘post-COVID’ world, connectivity and ubiquitous fibre broadband will be more important than ever.”
However, beyond just improving connectivity, work needs to be done to fix inclusivity online.
“When young people do get online, too often they are confronted with abuse, misinformation, and other dangerous content, which threatens their participation and can force them from platforms altogether,” wrote Berners-Lee and Leith in their blog post. “This is especially true for those disproportionately targeted on the basis of their race, religion, sexuality, abilities, and gender.”
Silencing young people – many would-be future leaders – is detrimental to all of us.
Current global leaders are being called on to invest now in the connectivity of the future and help bridge the opportunity gaps. A Web Foundation initiative called the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) calculates that $428 billion of investment over the next ten years would ensure that everyone around the world has access to an adequate internet connection.
That investment may sound a lot, but the economic gains outweigh it. Analysis from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change – setting politics aside for a sec – finds that universal broadband in the developing world by 2030 would generate around $8.7 trillion in economic benefits.
In 2019, Berners-Lee published a ‘Contract for the Web’ to help save it. The contract highlighted concerns arising from centralisation including government shutdowns, censorship, and too much power in the hands of large companies.
The current Web 3.0 movement aims to use decentralisation technologies like blockchains to return to Berners-Lee’s original vision of his invention where “no permission is needed from a central authority to post anything … there is no central controlling node, and so no single point of failure … and no “kill switch”.
If we’re truly going to “build back better” from the pandemic, it’s clear we need to increase global connectivity, fight discrimination, counter misinformation, and reduce the power governments and a handful of large companies have over the internet and web content.
(Image Credit: Web Foundation)
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