Billions of people still not on internet; affordability is key: Sunil Mittal

Indian conglomerate Bharti Enterprises’ Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal on Monday said billions of people in the world are still not on the internet for which affordability is a key factor.

Speaking at a panel discussion on technology cooperation in the fourth industrial revolution at the World Economic Forum’s online Davos Agenda 2022 summit, he also said the industry alone cannot reach the last mile and huge investments would be required in infrastructure to reach that goal.

Further, Mittal said technology is always a double-edged sword and it becomes the duty of all stakeholders that the negatives of digital connectivity are minimised and benefits are maximised.

The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have already led to transformative advances in numerous domains.

Panelists discussed how can technology stakeholders work together to balance innovation and responsibility to maximise the potential of emerging technologies for addressing global problems.

Moderated by Observer Research Foundation President Samir Saran, the panel also included Verizon Communications Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg and Rwanda’s Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation Paula Ingabire.

Vestberg said being connected to the internet is now a human right.

Mittal said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant appreciation about telecom and broadband networks.

They have facilitated virtually everything during this pandemic for everyone, from contact tracing to vaccination details, financial services and money transfers, food delivery and so many other things, he added.

Mittal also lauded the role of small and medium enterprises and said any society cannot sustain itself without a robust supply chain and SMEs play a big role there.

The fourth industrial revolution has truly shown itself in the last two years that it is the only way going forward to help humanity, he said.

The panelists spoke about international cooperation and why this is critical when it comes to technology for societal progress.

Vestberg highlighted that with 3.6 billion people still offline today, we need to use 21st century infrastructure (mobility, broadband and cloud services) to get accessible and affordable technology and digital services for everyone.

Mittal stressed that many people have the coverage to be online but not the affordability.

If a country like India can provide high-quality data at a low monthly cost, the same can be done in marginalised parts of the world, he said.

Key players in the digital ecosystem and governments need to come together to provide affordability to those who may otherwise never get connected, Mittal noted.

Minister Ingabire noted the importance of technology cooperation for governments to address common challenges in the road for recovery post-pandemic.


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