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Web founder calls for ubiquitous, safe internet access for young people

Internet access has a direct correlation to GDP. On the 32nd birthday of the world wide web, its founder calls for improvements to safe access

Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee has co-authored an open letter with Rosemary Leith, calling for internet connectivity for all young people around the world.

According to Berners-Lee and Leith, who co-founded the World Wide Web Foundation to advance the open web as a public good and a basic right, funding for network infrastructure, subsidies and support for community networks makes it entirely possible to provide internet access to all young people.

In the letter, the pair called on policymakers to speed up and scale investment to make sure everyone, everywhere is within reach of a meaningful internet connection, with the speeds, data and devices they need to make the most of the web. “An all-out push to connect the world will make sure that young people do not fall through the cracks,” they wrote.

Berners-Lee and Leith cited data from the Web Foundation’s Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), which estimates that $428bn of additional investment over 10 years would provide everyone with a quality broadband connection.

“To put this in perspective, that amounts to the equivalent of just $116 per person for the 3.7 billion people who remain offline today,” they said. “By giving billions more people tools to learn, earn and create, this down payment for future generations would deliver incredible returns in the form of economic growth and social empowerment.” 

In the letter, the pair noted that a 10% increase in the number of people online translates to a 2% lift in an economy’s GDP. They also referred to research showing that achieving universal broadband in the developing world by 2030 would deliver around $8.7tn in direct economic benefits. “We can’t afford not to do it,” they said.

“By giving billions more people tools to learn, earn and create, this down payment for future generations would deliver incredible returns in the form of economic growth and social empowerment”
Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith, Web Foundation

As in previous years, Berners-Lee highlighted failings of the tech sector to do enough to protect against online abuse and the spread of misinformation.

“We must also make sure technology is helpful, not harmful; inclusive, not exclusive,” Berners-Lee and Leith stated in the letter. “The development and design of tech fails to make users’ rights and well-being a top priority. How products and services are designed helps determine whether or not young people can use them safely and effectively.”

Berners-Lee and Leith urged tech companies to work with young people to co-create products and services that respect their rights and take into account their unique experiences and needs. They also suggested that governments should pass effective laws that govern technology and hold companies to account for creating responsible products and services.

Publication of the letter ties in with the Web Foundation establishing a Tech Policy Design Lab. Berners-Lee and Leith said the lab will start by tackling online gender-based violence and abuse against women, in particular young women.

“In this pilot programme, we are bringing together tech companies and women’s rights groups to shape policy and product solutions to curb online harassment, so that all young women can use the web without fear of abuse and violence,” they said.

Over time, Berners-Lee and Leith hope the lab will continue to work at solving some of the hardest tech problems to achieve a better online world.

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