LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS SHANGHAI 2017: Industry leaders were urged to support initiatives to close the digital divide and help communities connect remote areas to ensure areas of the world were not left behind by the fourth industrial revolution.

Speaking at the Society and the Human Element keynote today, Kathy Brown, president and CEO of the Internet Society – an organisation founded to increase internet inclusion around the world – said companies in the sector only needed to make small contributions of skills or equipment to local groups to make a big difference in unconnected communities.

Pointing to the work already done by the society in partnership with 20 projects around the world, Brown (pictured) said many local groups were able to run their own education facilities and networks made up of limited 2G or Wi-Fi mesh networks, if they were given a relatively small amount of support from companies.

“This is a powerful industry, I think it can do amazing things and we, together, ought to,” she said. “Companies here can contribute to development by giving skills, equipment, training, providing backhaul – not much traffic needs to go over those cell towers – or a medium slice of unused spectrum.”

She said the Internet Society “is keen for all of us to put our minds and energies together to forge new partnerships and strengthen existing ones – the goals that we set for ourselves for the betterness of humankind and, by the way, expansion of business and expansion of our economies are really within our reach.”

Many rural areas without connectivity are a short distance away from roads, which are provisioned by local operators so users can retain connectivity while travelling, she added, questioning if collaboration could lead to the signal being extended out to new areas.

Wider issues
It was not just issues in the developing world highlighted during the keynote, with CEO of consultancy Ctrl-Shift, Liz Brandt, outlining the plight of consumers in developed markets who aren’t lacking access to connectivity, but don’t have the ability to access it.

The elderly, disabled, underprivileged and digitally adverse across developed markets are in danger of missing out on the benefits of the digital economy, she outlined.

To engage these groups, and those concerned about their data being exposed to the internet, Brandt said a “trust bridge” must be created where consumers can see the value they can derive from companies having their data.

“We need to bring together individuals and businesses and build a trust bridge to value,” she said. “There is not one size fits all. It has to manifest differently in each country as society is changing and it will be a fine balance.”

She added those who won’t engage with the internet, or were unable to, were in danger of being disadvantaged by being unable to access a range of life-important elements, including job searching and saving money on utilities.