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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

A Review of the Global Connect Initiative: Connecting an Additional 1.5 Billion People to the Internet by 2020

Catherine A. Novelli
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment 

Washington, DC
April 14, 2016

Date: 04/14/2016 Location: Washington, DC Description: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shares a laugh with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Cathy Novelli before the Secretary delivered remarks at the Global Connect Initiative event at the World Bank. - State Dept Image

3:25 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: So this will be an on-the-record briefing with Under Secretary Novelli on the Global Connect Initiative, and I think we’ll go ahead and start with the Under Secretary giving a few remarks at the top and then we’ll open it up for questions.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: All right. Well, today I think if you watched the global stream, you know that we had a special event for the Global Connect Initiative and today’s event had more than a hundred participants. We had representatives from 27 different countries and actually more than that, but that was the government representatives. We had some civil society representatives, we had private sector executives, we had the heads of all the multilateral development banks, so it was a really interesting group of people. I think everybody who participated commented that this was really the first time that that set of people was all in one room together. And normally you have the private sector kind of telecom side who talks to communications ministers, and so having that sort of different kind of conversation and having a conversation about how connectivity actually drives economic growth, and a recognition of that and the need to prioritize connectivity, is one of the real things that we’ve delivered out of this event.

We launched this whole initiative at the UN General Assembly this past fall, and there we had participants from a number of developing countries. It was together with President Kim of the World Bank but also the president of Tanzania, the president of Kenya, the president of Estonia – all of whom are recognizing the importance of this, as well as the CEO of Ericsson.

So the announcements from today – actually there were 65 new and ongoing initiatives by governments, by international organizations and multilateral lending institutions and industry that support connectivity. That equals more than $20 billion worth of value. And I think setting aside just the dollar value, what’s particularly important is that we now really have a path forward for working with individual countries on broadband plans for building out their broadband. We have a recognition by the multilateral development banks that they need to prioritize much more highly financing for connectivity initiatives. And we have a need of finance ministers recognizing that when they are looking at how they’re going to spend their budget, that this is something that’s going to have incredible returns on investment and that this needs to be looked at in a new way.

I think we all understood that we need innovation sort of not just in the technology side, but we need innovation in how financing occurs as well as on how business models are brought forward if we really want to bridge this gap. And I think everyone has embraced the idea of trying to bring 1.5 billion people into connectivity and into connectivity with very good government policies, policies that are going to promote a very healthy growth of the internet as well as promote the ability of users to use the internet. And that means digital literacy for participants as well as driving local content, things like apps that are useful in the economy in sort of those markets in which – those localized markets.

So I would be glad to stop there and take questions.

MODERATOR: I think we can just go one back and forth, if that works for you.



QUESTION: I will ask one first.


QUESTION: Thank you very much, [Under] Secretary Novelli. My first question is the U.S. launched this initiative last year. How does this initiative serve the United States interests? Especially in the United States, the internet is already there, it’s very developed. Why you care about other countries? Are you trying to use this initiative actually to help to open the market for U.S. companies?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well, actually, interestingly, a number of the companies that were here today are not U.S. companies. We had companies from Sweden, from Norway, from Estonia, from a lot of different countries. And the United States has always cared about development. That’s one of the things that we think is very important.

And so for us, we look at this initiative as absolutely essential to development. And the World Bank put out its report a couple of years ago showing that for every 10 percent increase in connectivity in a developing country, you see a 1 to 2 percent increase in GDP. And so I think to us, there’s really no better single tool that is going to spread out throughout any society and provide opportunity for education, for better health care through remote education, remote health care; to provide opportunity for small and medium companies to enter markets, global markets that they haven’t been able to enter before; to provide opportunity for scientists to talk to each other, for innovators to talk to each other and to get ideas. And so for us, it’s really a matter of how do we help convene folks and provide energy underneath this idea of connectivity for development purposes. So that’s why we’re putting it forward.

QUESTION: I know we have 35 or 33 countries kind of officially signed on now, and can you just talk about what they’re officially signing on to do and the commitment that you’re asking them to make to be part of it?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well, I think we have more as of today, also.


UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: We have a number of countries – India and others – who’ve now publicly --

QUESTION: Committed today? Okay.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Yeah, said that they support this. And really, there is – there’s a set in your papers of principles. I think there’s about – it’s a one-page set of principles. And I think if you look at it, it’s pretty – it’s like what I would call motherhood and apple pie. I mean, these are connectivity is good, having – having – driving digital literacy is a good thing, having people be able to have connectivity at affordable prices is a good thing, innovation is good. I mean, so it’s not super-controversial there.

I think what countries are signing on to when they say that they support these principles – which is what they’re saying – is also that they’re going to themselves, if they don’t yet have a broadband plan, create one, so a planful way of how they’re going to build out this access; and then that they’re going to be part of the catalyst for – they’re all members of these development banks – for sort of insisting that the development banks also start prioritizing this when they’re looking at what are they going to finance. And those are the kind of things that we’re looking to have happen.

This isn’t a straight line. It’s really a web, kind of like the internet is, of lots of interconnected actors who are going to act in different ways depending on the circumstances, but we can measure the goal because we can measure how many people are connected to the internet. And then what gets measured from there is what the World Bank has already showed, which is that connection is going to drive better lives for the people in any individual country. So that’s the way we’re hoping to see it build out.

QUESTION: Second question – this time you mentioned the heads from multilateral development banks.


QUESTION: So including AIIB.


QUESTION: So I especially want to ask you what’s your expectation to AIIB in terms of the internet improvement.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well, I think I was very happy that President Jin of the AIIB was there today, and he has already publicly stated the AIIB’s support for this whole Global Connect Initiative, which I think is fantastic. And one of the things I said when introducing him today was that because AIIB is a new bank, they have a chance to actually be innovators and to look at this in a different way where they don’t have so much overhang as the old banks have. And so I think we’ll look for AIIB too to think that way, to think a little bit outside the box, to think creatively. And at least from his remarks, it sounded like that was his intention and that it was the intention – the AIIB does recognize that if we think about what’s a 21st century economy and what does infrastructure mean in the 21st century, that having internet broadband build-out has got to be part of that.

And I think, honestly, that this is a semi-new concept for some of the other development banks. They’ve been busy thinking about, for years and years and years, oh, we have to build a road, we have to build a water plant, we have to do electricity. And those are all important and it’s not to say they’re not. I would add onto that list, though, the internet, and that that is the 21st century road. And so you can’t just think about a road.

And what was mentioned actually by the UNOP today was that if you’re going to build a road, you have to think about – dig once – how do you lay fiber alongside that road. And how do you, as a bank, have the kind of wherewithal to say, okay, we’re going to adopt that as a policy from now on; if we’re going to finance a road, it has to have internet connectivity being laid alongside of it, because the cost is almost nothing to do that at that time.

So we’re thrilled the AIIB was there. I personally invited the president to come, and I was very, very glad that he could be there.

QUESTION: Does this also shows that – because when AIIB first launched, the State Department, the White House expressed your concern. So by having them here today and also maybe have future cooperation, does it mean your concern had been addressed?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well, I think we are – we want to work with the AIIB, absolutely. And I think we’ve said that publicly. I’ve certainly said that publicly numerous times in numerous locations, as has Secretary Lew. And so to me, this is a great opportunity for us to think about how we can work together.

And the United States – we also want to make sure that all the banks have very high standards. And there’s been a lot of discussion. With any new bank, I think it’s natural that you would say, okay, we want to make sure that all these gains that we’ve had in governance and in looking at environmental impacts of things, that those are incorporated into any new bank that comes along. And so we’re very pleased with the stated intentions of the AIIB along those lines. And I think this will be a great opportunity for us to partner on something concrete.

QUESTION: So, yesterday, I was at that daylong discussion. And there was a lot of talk of different policies; we don’t need to invent new technology necessarily to do this. Obviously, (inaudible) is a great example. I’m just wondering what are some of the technological tools – like the use of TV and radio white space was cited several times – that you or people on your team really think can really help get us to this level, this goal. And what are those that exist today or even that are in the kind of pipeline that you really think are going to be best at that?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well, I can’t predict future technology. But certainly there’s a lot of basic technology that’s still very sound, if you think about fiber optic cable, you think about cell phone towers. And then you think about how folks are trying to think about getting to those last miles out in rural areas, and that’s very difficult because the cost of doing that can be very expensive. And so there’s a lot of innovative things that folks are looking at, be it the low-Earth orbit satellites, the one connection network that folks are thinking about forming, be it the floating of balloons – there’s more than one company who’s thought about that as a way to kind of deal with this. And there [are] probably things that we haven’t even thought of yet that are being looked at.

But I think there’s also sort of the nuts and bolts, and we don’t want to lose sight of that. And one of the things that was cited today was a lot of countries have universal service funds, and when the – when telephony first started, when the telephone started, countries, as a general rule, said, okay, we’re going to charge a small tax on everybody’s phone bill and we’re going to compile that into a pile of money that we can use to fund connectivity in rural areas. And so the question is – a lot of countries are not using those funds now and those could be put to very good use to fund broadband. So I think there’s sort of a combination of technology and policy that can work together to actually make this happen and both require innovative thinking.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MODERATOR: I was going to say one more for each if that works for you.



QUESTION: When you talk about internet cooperation, especially with China, there is a difference between United States and China in terms of internet freedom, internet sovereignty. So does this Global Connect Initiative going to set that difference aside and just focus on the cooperation area about improve the internet infrastructure?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well, I guess what I would say is we’ve always been a strong proponent of open internet and open access to information and we’re going to continue to do that. Connectivity is also an important thing and we can work with lots of countries and we intend to do that, including with China, on how we can build out connectivity. And I think that in terms of citizens being able to participate in what happens with respect to governance and transparency and participate in government, the more connectivity, the better off we’re all going to be.

QUESTION: Can you talk about maybe just a few of the 65 projects and initiatives that you know about that you’re kind of watching and you think are interesting?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well, we have a whole fact sheet that you can – that lists all of them. I think some of the really --

MODERATOR: Yes, there’s about 14 pages.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Some of the really, I think, interesting things that are – there’s been OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Company, has just announced, actually, a huge funding in India to build cell towers that are going to result in widespread connectivity. I don’t – I think it’s in there what the – how many millions of people are going to be connected as a result of it. And so I think that’s a very interesting project and what’s that – that is going to portend. And I think what we’re hoping is when folks see those kind of projects, they’ll think about we could do this in another place too.

The other piece that I – as I had said before that I think is super important is a number of countries are looking at now how are they going to either revise or devise their broadband buildout plans. And that’s really, I think, the first step in a planful way to make sure that connectivity happens, and not just kind of in a haphazard way. And one of the things that we talked about is the importance when countries are then going to say, okay, we’re going to build this out, and that’s done largely by the private sector who’s going to operate those networks. And setting the tone when they actually go out for RFPs is going to be very important, and making sure that it isn’t just about who gets spectrum in order to operate the network, but also what are they going to do with it and how are we going to make sure that the company who wins that spectrum is providing the best service to the most people and that that service includes data. And we’ve seen countries like Myanmar do a great job with this and we’re hoping that that is going to be replicated kind of across the board.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much.


MODERATOR: This concludes the --


QUESTION: Appreciate it.


MODERATOR: Yes. Thank you both.

QUESTION: Were these all announced today or these are --


QUESTION: -- from the announcement last year? Okay.

MODERATOR: And you can go to their Global Connect website, which I’m happy to give you as well. It has these documents as well as all of our words of support. So these are just a few of the documents --

QUESTION: Sure, okay.

MODERATOR: -- I’ve printed out for you, but --

QUESTION: Thank you for doing that.



QUESTION: Thank you again.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

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