Greetings from the snowy Swiss Alps, where I am attending the World Economic Forum in Davos along with a few of my ICANN colleagues this week. I’m both energized and honored to be invited a second time to participate in the intense discussions and debate at this important gathering, and looking forward to engaging senior business leaders and policy-makers in Internet governance and ICANN’s role in this evolving ecosystem.
Underscoring our discussions is a new report by Boston Consulting Group that ICANN commissioned last year, Greasing the Wheels of the Internet Economy. The report takes a state-of-the-nation look at Internet access and use around the world, including some of the challenges (or “frictions”) still getting in the way of a truly open Internet, particularly in emerging economies. I encourage you to read the report [here], but in the meantime here are some of the findings that really stood out for me:
- The impact of the Internet on global economic growth is on the rise: The study estimates that countries with higher Internet activity can accrue up to 2.5 percent GDP growth compared to countries with low online activity. The Internet clearly has become a defining force in economic growth and job creation across the world, and its importance continues to grow.
- There are still significant impediments to the access and use of the Internet around the world, with a drag on digital investment and growth. The study ranks different countries in an index measuring these impediments, or “frictions.” The most significant of these are of the structural type—problems related to basic Internet access and cost—and found mostly at national or local level. Others are less straightforward and fairly varied, including regulatory constraints on businesses to operate online, lack of technical training, and restrictions on content available to consumers. Notably, data privacy fears are also starting to inhibit Internet use by businesses and consumers in many countries. Many of these challenges are a sign of a maturing digital economy, with traditional policy approaches still catching up with rapid technological growth.
- There are vast numbers of small businesses in developing countries for whom Internet access is more critical than ever to expand and diversify their businesses: Those which can freely use the Web have been shown to be 50 percent more likely to sell products and services outside of their immediate localities. The opportunity of engaging these SMEs in the global digital economy is enormous, and much of it still untapped.
Reading this report, it is clear to me that the stakes have never been higher for coordinated action to ensure the Internet remains a strong, stable foundation for job creation and growth. This is particularly true as economic impact of the Internet grows and vast parts of the developing world migrate to the Internet.
The Internet’s growth raises policy challenges which will provoke debate in many circles about how Internet resources should be governed. At ICANN and within the Internet governance ecosystem, we welcome the debate, mindful that we must keep it firmly grounded on the shared vision of a single, frictionless and open Internet that keeps civil society, businesses and consumers enfranchised as the main propellers of its growth. This open network governed by a multistakeholder model is the principle that has made the Internet such a successful growth engine—clearly evidenced by the BCG study—and an important reminder to the policy and business leaders I will be meeting this week.