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100 days in: five thoughts from the top of the mountain

Web Foundation · December 14, 2017

By Adrian Lovett, President & CEO

I’m writing this on day 100 in my role at the Web Foundation. No day has been like another — including today, as I write from the remote village of Girisuko in Indonesia where I’ve seen the work of our Open Data Lab in action. Girisuko literally means “I like my mountain”. It’s a good vantage point, not only to survey the lush green hills around me, but to look back on these first hundred days. Here are my top five 100-day takeaways.

1) The web is only as good as the content on it (and some of it is not good)

Like clean water and education, internet access is vital to thriving in today’s world and must be considered a public good and a right for everyone. But just as people have a right not only to water, but to clean water, we all have a right to connect to a web that is safe, open and empowering — a web worth connecting to.

Let’s face it, some of what we find online is designed to misinform, and sometimes to drive hatred and division. We must apply the same human rights and responsibilities online as we do offline. We also need a way for internet users to more easily distinguish truth from lies and to stop misinformation from being elevated to the point of crushing civil discourse. Governments and the big tech firms have a big responsibility and an urgent role to play to ensure that the web remains a safe space where everyone has the same rights and opportunities to heard.

2) Content on the web is only as good as the people that put it there (and that’s us, folks)

The web was built to connect and construct, not to divide and destroy — and it was intended as a network of creators, not just consumers. In the last 100 days I’ve met a group launching a car-sharing website in Cote d’Ivoire and an entrepreneur in Ghana building a platform to let students learn on their phones. I visited a group of 200 young women who spend their Saturdays learning digital skills to take back to their communities. They’re inspiring the next generation of content creators. There are millions of people all over the world building great things on the web. Let’s celebrate and support them – and join them.

If you find your well is contaminated, you don’t stop searching for clean water. And we can’t give up on the web. Fighting to create and protect the web we want — the open web as a public good — has never been more important. I’ve said before that I’m optimistic that citizens, entrepreneurs and policymakers working together can solve the challenges the web faces. But we may need to rediscover ourselves as creators and activists, not just consumers.

3) If most of your fellow citizens are online and you’re not, you’re in trouble

When the whole of the World Wide Web was hosted on one computer in Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s office (the one labelled “Do Not Power Down”), the digital divide was extreme. He and his CERN colleagues stood on one side, the rest of us on the other. Twenty-eight years later (largely thanks to Tim) the web is far more widely distributed — and that means the costs of not being online are infinitely greater.

As the online population grows, so do the disadvantages faced by those without access. Recently at the excellent Web Summit, Chike Aguh of EveryoneOn told me that nine in ten American children now get their homework digitally. What does that mean for those living in the nearly one-third of US households without broadband? Fast forward a few years and imagine applying for college, searching for a job, or perhaps even voting, without the internet access that connects almost everyone else.

In many ways, the web today is a fact of life — not a choice. That’s why the last mile in the road to universal access may be the most important mile of all.

4) The market won’t get everyone connected (and it may fall a long way short)

In 2018, for the first time, we’ll cross the point when more people have access to the internet than don’t. This 50% mark is a cause for celebration — but also a reminder of how far we have to go to achieve our vision of a web for everyone.

So far, the rise in access has been driven mainly by market forces. Demand has grown, and supply has chased demand. But the growth of supply has been too slow and recent research confirms the rate of people coming online is slowing further. We can’t wait for the market to connect everyone. We need a plan to reach the billions still offline and we need it now.

Affordability must be at the heart of that plan. The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), an initiative led by the Web Foundation, is tackling the affordability obstacle by working with governments, private sector actors and community leaders to implement the policies needed to drive down broadband prices to an affordable ‘1 for 2’ level — 1GB for no more than 2% of average monthly income — that will enable billions more to afford to connect.

5) The web remains one of humanity’s greatest gifts to itself

The web remains an incredible and powerful force for good. Everyone has a story about the web. Whether it’s helped you connect with an old friend or to stay close to family when you’re far away; enabled you to teach yourself to play the guitar, empowered you to find a new job or build your own business — the web has changed your life, my life, and billions of other lives in so many ways. It has helped economies to grow and innovations in health care to take root. It has enabled us to better tackle natural disasters and global security threats. It has empowered us to overcome injustices and put right historic wrongs. And for some, it has introduced us to the love of our life. What could be better than that?

I’m incredibly proud of the work we’re doing at the Web Foundation to ensure that the web remains a positive public good that everyone, everywhere can connect to. As we head into the new year — a year that is sure to come with its fair share of challenges across the digital world — let’s keep this top of mind. The web we want is a web worth fighting for, and I hope you’ll join us in the movement to keep it open, free, and for everyone. From here in Girisuko, on top of the mountain, everything looks possible.


To keep up to date on our fight for digital equality, follow me on Twitter at @adrianlovett and the Web Foundation @webfoundation. Sign up to receive our email newsletters.

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