Internet of opportunity: Will the internet benefit all Europeans?

The internet offers each individual the opportunity to reach a global audience, or market, with a few keystrokes. But will big-city dwellers benefit from this opportunity while small city and rural residents fall behind? Will the prosperous and well-educated thrive, while the less well-off lose ground? The US-based Internet Society teamed up with CEPS and the European Committee of the Regions to debate these and other questions in a full-day event at CEPS on November 7th. The answers were, overall, optimistic. Associate Senior Fellow William Echikson presented new evidence in a CEPS Policy Insight paper: The Internet and Jobs: A giant opportunity for Europe, arguing that the internet is creating far more jobs than it is destroying – and that many of these jobs are being created in traditional industrial areas. Vint Cert, one of the co-inventors of the first internet protocol, addressed the audience via video and outlined both the opportunities and challenges facing his invention, pointing to concerns such as privacy and security. Internet Society Vice President Raul Echeberria elaborated on these concerns, observing that many young people described the internet as “life”. In emerging economies, he reported hearing great optimism about the prospects that the internet holds for them. Others, however, expressed disillusionment and questioned how cyber threats, the Internet of Things and government interventions might reshape the internet and society.  Members of four separate panels detailed their different perspectives on the internet. We heard how a region in rural eastern Finland, decimated by the closure of paper mills, is coming back thanks to the construction of a huge new data centre. Participants learned how the isolated Slovak city of Kosice has transformed itself into an IT hub and focused on opportunities opened up by mobile phone applications. Leaders from the European Commission and satellite, telecom and community operators debated the best way to bring an efficient, cost-effective broadband service to rural regions. And finally, security experts from private sector companies such as Symantec and public authorities such as Britain’s National Health Service debated the best ways to keep their data safe and secure.

The discussion concluded with a challenge. There are now 3.5 billion users of the internet across the globe, and seven billion people. For the Internet Society, this means that some 3.5 billion people remain to be brought on board. It’s a great opportunity.