Should internet be free for everyone? A Global Stage debate

Half of the world's population is currently offline, and COVID has further widened the digital gap. Providing more than three billion people with affordable, reliable internet access sounds like a no-brainer, but the devil is in the details. Who'll pay for it, how do we measure success, who should be on board, and what are the potential benefits?

Several experts weighed in during a Global Stage virtual conversation hosted by GZERO Media in partnership with Microsoft during the 76th UN General Assembly, moderated by the UN's Melissa Fleming.


Don't miss our next event: LIVE on Wednesday Oct 13 11am ET/ 8 am PT:

Infodemic: Defending Democracy Against Disinformation


Vickie Robinson, head of Microsoft's Airband Initiative to expand broadband access throughout the developing world, what's really important is for the internet to be accessible, not necessarily free. The problem, she explained, is that it costs money to build and maintain networks, so no costs for end users could have unintended consequences. Instead, Robinson would focus only on giving access to people who really need it and can't afford to be online.

Make Internet Affordable, but Not Free for All | Global Stage | GZERO Mediayoutu.be

Even developed countries have their own problems getting everyone online. Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chair of the US Federal Communications Commission, said that mapping the real state of America's broadband access is currently flawed because a single subscriber in a rural area doesn't mean everyone is online. Until the US comes up with a better way to show who actually has internet access and who doesn't, the problem will likely never be fixed.

We'll Never Fix America's Internet Without Measuring Access Properly, Says FCC Chair | Global Stageyoutu.be

Then there's another important question: whose responsibility should it be to bridge the "digital Grand Canyon" of exclusion, asthe UN refers to the digital divide? For the International Communications Union's Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the only way is to get all concerned parties — the UN, governments, international institutions, the private sector, and civil society — to work together.

How can we bridge the "digital Grand Canyon"? | Global Stage | GZERO Mediayoutu.be

If everyone who needs access to the internet gets it, the world's least-connected continent — Africa — could benefit tremendously. Eurasia Group's top Africa analyst Amaka Anku explained that getting all Africans online could spur economic growth by formalizing the informal sector, which is very large and hard to tax, as long as African governments help out by cutting red tape for investment.

Want Africa to Grow? Get People and Businesses Online: Africa Expert | Global Stage | GZERO Mediayoutu.be

Stay informed about further Global Stage discussions: sign up for updates and reminders about GZERO Media's events.

More from Global Stage

Live from Davos: Crisis in a digital world | Monday, May 23 | 11 am ET / 5 pm CEST | Global Stage

GZERO streams live from Davos on Monday, May 23

As industry and government leaders gather in person for the 2022 World Economic Forum, GZERO Media is hosting a special livestream to discuss “Crisis in a digital world” on Monday, May 23, at 5 pm CEST/11 am EDT.

Live from Davos: Crisis in a digital world

Live from Davos: Crisis in a digital world

As industry and government leaders gather in person for the 2022 World Economic Forum, GZERO Media is hosting a special livestream to discuss “Crisis in a digital world” on Monday, May 23, at 5pm CEST/11am EDT.

Global Stage Podcast | Patching the System | Fighting Cybercrime

Podcast: A cybercrime treaty proposed by…Russia?

Listen: Cybercrime is a rapidly growing threat, and one that will require a global effort to combat. But could some of the same measures taken to fight criminals online lead to human rights abuses and a curtailing of freedom? As the United Nations debates a new and expansive cybercrime treaty first proposed by Russia, we’re examining the details of the plan, how feasible it would be to find consensus, and what potential dangers await if the treaty is misused by authoritarian governments.

Haiti stuck in a "vicious circle," says IMF economist

Amid the current global turmoil, one country that's definitely no stranger to crises is Haiti. Haitians will surely feel the pinch of rising prices of things like food and fuel, International Monetary Fund economist Nicole Laframboise says during a Global Stage conversation with GZERO Media in partnership with Microsoft.

Podcast: Cyber Mercenaries and the digital “wild west"

Podcast: Cyber Mercenaries and the digital “wild west"

Listen: The concept of mercenaries, hired soldiers and specialists working privately to fight a nation’s battles, is nearly as old as war itself.In our fourth episode of “Patching the System,” we’re discussing the threat cyber mercenaries pose to individuals, governments, and the private sector. We’ll examine how spyware used to track criminal and terrorist activity around the world has been abused by bad actors in cyber space who are hacking and spying activists, journalists, and even government officials. And we’ll talk about what’s being done to stop it.

Egypt wants COP27 to be all about implementation

Later this year, Egypt will be hosting the COP27 Climate Summit. What does the gathering hope to accomplish at such an uncertain time for climate action? It's time to go from pledges and commitments to implementation, Egyptian Minister for International Cooperation Rania al-Mashat says during a Global Stage livestream conversation hosted by GZERO Media in partnership with Microsoft.

Digital Equity