Priscilla Chomba-Kinywa: Why a free and fair internet is more vital than ever

Recorded atApril 27, 2021
Duration (min:sec)09:17
Video TypeTEDx Talk
Words per minute189.15 fast
Readability (FK)48.69 difficult
SpeakerPriscilla Chomba-Kinywa

Official TED page for this talk


Without the internet, how would you have coped with the pandemic -- from work and school, to maintaining your closest relationships? In the digital age, reliance on the internet is so common and seems ubiquitous, yet billions of people worldwide still go without it. Digital transformation strategist Priscilla Chomba-Kinywa advocates for collective access to the opportunities and potential the internet provides, underscoring the necessity of free and fair digital rights for all.

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:04 I have a question for you.
200:07 How would you have coped with the COVID-19 pandemic if you'd had no access to the internet?
300:14 March 2020.
400:16 I know we all want to forget, but allow me to take you back to March 2020.
500:22 You see, it felt like one minute we were doing what we always do, going about our daily business, and then we were keeping, sort of, one eye on a virus that was over there.
600:33 And then the next day, boom, we were in a head-on collision with a pandemic that nobody knew what to do about.
700:40 Authorities jumped to action.
800:42 Don't go to church, don't go to the mosque, don't see your friends, don't go to restaurants, don't go outside, don't use public transport and don't visit your parents, don't go to school, don't go to work.
900:53 It was a barrage of "don'ts" from every direction possible.
1000:59 It was a lot.
1101:05 But we adapted.
1201:06 We started to accept, and slowly we shifted more and more of what we did from in-person to online.
1301:14 We started to rely on the power of the internet to order our groceries online, to order our meals, to speak to our friends or even to learn how to take care of that plant, finally.
1401:25 We used the internet to pray.
1501:27 We used it to exercise, to meditate, to speak to our therapists.
1601:32 Organizations, including the one that I work with, shifted to remote working and I was able to continue working.
1701:38 Some schools figured out how to deliver online classes, and my children only had three weeks of interruption to their learning before they were back in class online.
1801:47 Granted, they were in these classes wearing a school shirt and a school tie with pajama bottoms, but I couldn't do anything about it because I was doing pretty much the same thing in my Zoom meetings.
1901:59 Unfortunately, this picture that I've painted was not the same for everyone.
2002:03 It certainly wasn't true for those without access to the internet.
2102:07 The lady who helps us with our chores in the house talked to me about her rising levels of anxiety as she saw more and more of her friends lose their jobs.
2202:16 Her friends who sold in markets, who sold at street corners, they had no customers and therefore no money because we were all sheltering in place.
2302:26 While she saw my children sitting in their Zoom classes talking to their teachers, her own children had to be taken to the village.
2402:32 Because, you see, with all the parents out trying to make some money and no school for the kids to go to, their safety and security was no longer guaranteed.
2502:41 So the village was their only option.
2602:44 In my own home village of Kasama in rural Zambia, a beautiful and brilliant young girl named Chomba faces the exact same fate of not being able to continue her education.
2702:54 Because, you see, they don’t have access to the internet.
2802:58 And the longer the pandemic rages on, the further and further and further away her dream of becoming a medical doctor go, and the higher her chances become of becoming a teenage mum or getting married off as a teenager.
2903:13 Many of us use the internet for so many things, even if it was just talking to our parents on video calls.
3003:19 And we did so without a second thought to those without internet.
3103:23 Did it ever cross your mind how they, those without internet, were coping?
3203:29 We live in a digital age where access to the internet is no longer a nice-to-have; it is a definite must-have.
3303:37 The internet provides a tool for us to engage in democratic conversations.
3403:41 We have a voice in spaces that were previously a preserve of the few, whereas before only those who could go to TV stations, radio stations that have access to newspaper interviews had a say, now everybody can speak about issues that affect them.
3503:56 Just in the last few years, we have seen the power of the internet used to connect people from across the world.
3604:02 People who don't even speak each other's languages have been able to rally together to fight against things like racism, sexism, climate change and so much more.
3704:12 And globally, over two billion people do not have access to the internet.
3804:16 Two billion.
3904:18 So why should that number of two billion people concern you?
4004:23 As I mentioned, the internet gives power to people to contribute to their economies, to contribute to politics and to social issues.
4104:31 Let me put the economic contribution into context.
4204:34 My home country of Zambia relies on agriculture.
4304:38 We place a lot of emphasis on agriculture, and rightly so.
4404:41 Because 60 percent of the Zambian population relies on agriculture for their livelihoods.
4504:46 That’s according to United Nations statistics.
4604:49 And yet, when we look at the numbers, agriculture contributes only 7.5 percent to the country’s GDP most years.
4704:57 So 60 percent of the population is relying on something that contributes 7.5 percent to the GDP.
4805:04 In contrast, data from 2019 showed that one developed nation was able to get 10 percent of its GDP contribution from the power of the internet, not technology more broadly, the internet.
4905:19 Can you imagine what would happen if more people had access to the internet?
5005:25 And lest we forget, access to the internet would give Chomba in my home village the right to learn.
5105:32 She would be able to go to school and get closer to realizing her dream of contributing to the health sector.
5205:39 We need to act now.
5305:41 We need to actively and collectively ensure that going forward, everyone has access to a free, fair and feminist internet.
5405:50 We cannot afford to look away simply because we are comfortable and we have access.
5505:55 Because we need the contribution of the two billion.
5605:58 We need them contributing to the economies of our countries.
5706:01 We need their voices in politics.
5806:03 We need their voices on social issues.
5906:07 Now, I'll be the first to admit that this is not a small task.
6006:10 What I'm proposing, an equitable internet, is a major undertaking, but we have to start somewhere.
6106:17 We need governments and development partners to start to acknowledge that digital rights in a digital era are important to every citizen of their countries: policies that encourage competition among technology providers; regulation that allows for low-cost energy solutions to penetrate even where it’s hard to reach; changes to school curricula to include digital literacy; and free internet to the lowest-income citizens.
6206:42 All those are just a starting point.
6306:45 But we also understand that with the world's economy slowing down, most of our governments will not prioritize digital access.
6406:52 Most of them will default to the traditional election winners: those infrastructure projects that are outdated before they are even completed.
6507:01 They will focus on those, and those projects only benefit the middle class and the upper class, leaving the poorer even further behind.
6607:10 But this is where the private sector, non-profits and foundations come in.
6707:14 They certainly have the technical skills, the expertise and the financial resources to ensure that every citizen has access to the internet.
6807:23 And we need to start holding global corporations to account.
6907:26 In 2020, we learned that at least 20 developing countries were missing out on as much as 2.8 billion dollars in tax revenue from just three big tech companies.
7007:39 Three.
7107:40 This is only a tip of the iceberg because we know there are a lot of companies operating in these locations, but due to unfair global tax rules, they're not giving back their fair share.
7207:51 We need to demand that they start to give back.
7307:54 And give back in a way that is sustainable, that is genuine and does not come with the conditions that they normally attach to anything that they consider "free" in this context.
7408:05 And to ensure sustainability, it can be as simple as starting to look at what has already been tested in terms of providing access to technologies, bringing those up to the surface and then working with communities to make sure that whatever is put in place is for the long term -- and not just for the immediate.
7508:23 One thing we can all agree on is that there are definitely enough internet resources to go around, and the technology is certainly advanced enough to make sure that everybody has access.
7608:33 We need to figure out how we bring these resources together so that Chomba in my village does not just have access to learning content that is relevant to her, but that she's also able to take part in economic discussions, in political discourse and making sure that she has access to an internet where she is protected from online abuses such as surveillance, intimidation and bullying.
7708:55 On [an] individual level, you and I, those of us with access, need to stand with those that don't have.
7809:02 We need to make sure that we are not leaving those two billion behind and that we are making sure they have access to all the tools they need to live up to their full potential.
7909:12 So knowing how an equitable internet benefits the collective, how will you contribute to reducing that two billion number?