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A bright digital future for all: global cooperation to make the best of the digital economy

20 June 2016
by Guest author

Digital economy ministerial Ministers, the business community, civil society, labour and the Internet technical community will gather in Cancún, Mexico on 21-23 June for an OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity. Today’s post is by Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the European Commission, leading the Project Team Digital Single Market.

Slowly but surely, digitisation has transformed the world’s economy and people’s daily lives and our habits as consumers: how we work, travel, shop and are entertained.

The internet is an amazingly diverse source of innovation and creativity. Nearly three billion internet users are both creators of information as well as consumers.

Digital technologies and the internet offer remarkable development potential. With the OECD’s Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy about to be held in Cancún, Mexico, it is clear that digital issues are firmly on the global political agenda.

Although ICT is the fastest growing sector in the world, many millions of people are losing out on the opportunities offered by the digital age simply because they do not have access to digital technologies.

In fact, more than half the world’s people are offline. They cannot download anything, they cannot view a website, surf the internet or send an e-mail. The other half of the world which is online takes all this for granted.

Europe is not immune to this problem.

One hundred million Europeans are digitally excluded, and the percentage of people who have never used the internet is still very high.

There are huge differences in internet usage between young and old people, and similar differences between those with high and low levels of education.

This has an impact not only on individual lives – income, health, education – but also on families, communities, on political process, democracy, public services.

We are tackling these in our plan to build a Digital Single Market for Europe.

This aims to remove barriers that are today preventing people and businesses from getting the most, and best, out of the opportunities offered by the digital age.

It will allow every European to enjoy digital content and services – wherever they are in the EU- for their work, leisure and education.

It is the digital equivalent to the right to non-discrimination.

In Japan in April, G7 ministers agreed a plan for 1.5 billion more people to have internet access by 2020.

This is a good start towards getting rid of digital divides and exclusion around the world. But ultimate success will depend on at least a couple of factors: connectivity and skills.

Firstly and most obviously, we can only achieve this goal if more people have online access – preferably with a high-speed connection.

At the moment, only 15% of the world’s population can afford one.

This is often caused by a lack of competition in many markets, where expensively-priced services are only available to the few who can pay for them.

Secondly, people also need to have the skills to use digital technologies and be able to apply them in a working environment. Digital transformation is structurally changing labour markets around the world; in fact, the very nature of work as we know it today.

At the OECD meeting in Cancún, I will be chairing a panel of experts who will address these and other issues, including the need to raise digital skills and how best to go about it.

I have high hopes for Cancún in general, for it to reach good levels of understanding on a range of digital issues that call for international cooperation and discussion: internet governance, the free flow of data and its protection, net neutrality – just to name a few.

The internet should be a dynamic source of growth in the digital economy, for everyone to benefit. Everyone who is involved, or who has an interest, should have a say in how it is governed. The digital economy depends on a properly functioning, fair and open internet.

As such, all countries need to work together so that the global digital economy fulfils its potential for enhancing fairness and social inclusion – for everyone and everywhere.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the OECD meeting in Mexico.

Useful links

OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015

OECD work on Innovation in science, technology and industry


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