The Internet gets credit for a wide range of social, economic and cultural advancements despite the huge differences that exist between Internet accessibility in countries around the world.
Almost 20 percent of Africans have Internet access through broadband connections on mobile phones, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
For Internet expansion to continue in Africa, experts say users themselves must help ensure access remains free and open.
“It’s only the free and open Internet that allows for the creativity, the innovation and the entrepreneurship,” says Google’s Ross LaJeunesse, “that, in turn, allows for economic development, social advancement and connection.”
LaJeunesse is the head of Global Free Expression and International Relations for Google, one of the Internet’s most prominent corporate entities. He meets with government leaders around the world promoting policies that will allow people with good ideas to use the Internet to pursue, develop and promote them.
Some governments don’t want open policies because they prefer to control information media providing information to their publics. But the Internet allows citizens to convene their on public policy discussions online without government interventions.
An independent study shows that countries where that online discussion takes place freely– such as South Africa and Kenya — are experiencing stronger growth in the IT sector. “We’re seeing evidence that there is a correlation here,” LaJeunesse said when speaking to Mandela Washington Fellows during a July appearance.
Web users who have developed relationships and opportunities have done so in online spaces that are frequently free to use qwith no charge, said Suzanne Philion, a public relations specialist representing Yahoo on the Washington panel. That gives users a personal stake in ensuring their networks remain free of government control on into the future.
“We think about [activism for a free Internet] as civic engagement,” Phillion said, “and issues that you should really be invested in for your professional, personal lives going forward.”
A free and open Internet is a priority issue for the Obama administration, with the president warning policymakers everywhere that action to restrict Internet access, availability or content will ultimately be “self-defeating.”
Internet constraints are “going to inhibit the growth of the country generally, because closed societies that are not open to new ideas, eventually they fall behind,” Obama said. “They miss out on the future because they’re so locked into trying to maintain the past.”
U.S. Under Secretary Catherine Novelli is boosting the Obama administration’s efforts to maintain a free and open Internet. In a recent speech at the Internet Governance Forum, she emphasized how the Internet allows people with talent and good ideas to make their own opportunities.
“For example, three Nigerian university students have already helped tens of thousands of Africans secure jobs by creating a job search website called ‘Jobberman.com,’” Novelli said. “As West Africa’s most popular online career resource, Jobberman connects talented individuals with job opportunities.”
Help keep the Internet open so that you can pursue your ideas. Express your support for a free and open Internet and learn more about the issues here: openinternet.state.gov
“The Power of a Free and Open Internet and How Citizens Can Be Involved”
A Free and Open Internet