Larry Irving: Members of the Internet Society, distinguished guests, friends, it’s an honor to be here and I want to thank the Internet Society and advisory board for selecting me. And I also have to thank a couple of people starting with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, and late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. In 1993 they found a…not just a non-engineer but a lawyer. And not just a lawyer but a mass media broadcast lawyer. And gave me the charge of helping to develop policies for the United States with regard to how we were going to move forward on Internet policy. Our credo was putting people first, which stacks very nicely with what Andrew talked about, the Internet is for everyone. And every day we were trying to figure out what could we do that would bring the Internet to everyone.
I am a proud graduate of Northwest University and of Stanford University in the United States, and I was out in Palo Alto and Cupertino. And I was with Secretary Brown, we went down to Cupertino, the home of Apple Computer, and we saw these children around desks, and they each were around a network computer. And they were having a great time. Later that day, we went up to a low-income community in San Francisco called Hunters Point. They were poor students, they were predominantly minority students. They didn’t have a clue that a thing called the Internet existed.
And from that came our decision that we were going to study the digital divide. We knew that in order to move policy in the United States and across the planet we had to understand who was on, why they were on, who wasn’t on and why they weren’t on. And then we had to develop policies that would bring all of these people to the net.
Now as everyone has said today, the Internet is a collaborative effort. Nothing happens in Internet policy without a whole bunch of people putting their shoulders to the wheel. I was fortunate. I had bosses such as Dave Barram, the deputy secretary. When I did my first study working with the Census Bureau in the United States and we did a 50,000-person study, my good friend who’s also from Queens New York Everett Ehrlich was the Undersecretary of Commerce and helped me put that study together.
Many of you know the brilliant Laura Breeden. Others of you know Bernadette McGuire-Rivera. You may not know Becky Burr but you should. Roanne Robinson, my deputy Tom Sugrue, Jim Wasilewski, Kelly Levy, Jim McConnaughey, and Wendy Lader, who put together the first Falling Through the Net studies. There were so many more but everything we did was a collaborative effort.
I want to congratulate my fellow inductees. But I want to give a special graduations my longtime friend Dan Lynch who is not going to be us tonight, who’ll be on a little later. And over the last couple of days I’ve met people who I’ve interacted with over the— Jean and I have met online for years and have never met, and I’ve met other here we’ve interacted— Adiel and I have a joint interest with the Leland project had never met but our foundations are with that great project.
So I’m honored to be here today. In 1993 when we first started talking about the digital divide and doing the work to define the digital divide, there were 15 million people on this planet on the Internet. Today there are 4 billion. A lot of people in this room did a lot of work to make that happen. But we have a lot that we need to do still. This is the most transformative technology of our lifetimes. It is certainly good technology that has reach more people more rapidly than any technology in the history of this planet. We’ve done a lot of good work. But we’ve got a lot of work left to do.
Just in my home country the United States…just looking at children. There are 3 million students in the United States who are school-age who go home to no Internet. One out of seven kids in America don’t have broadband at home, in a country we have a about a 90% Internet penetration. Jessica Rosenworcel the FCC commissioner called that the “homework gap.” And it’s a gap that we’ve gotta close.
More importantly in the United States there are still 5 million rural households, and there are 15 million urban and suburban households that don’t have Internet either because they don’t have access in the rural areas or they can’t afford it in the urban and suburban areas. We need policymakers to step up and change that.
Globally, you look at the front page of the Internet Society today, 51% of the planet is connected. That means 49% aren’t connected. And that’s going to be the harder 49%; the low hanging fruit has already been gathered.
I can’t believe that we’ve come this far, and I can’t believe how far we’ve yet to go. I want to continue to work to connect people and I’ve been reading what Tim Berners-Lee is talking about, not only connections, but meaningful connections. We’ve got to make sure that when people are connected they’re doing things that enhance their lives and enhance the lives of the people they live with and love. That’s what the Internet Society’s all about. It’s what my work during my career has been all about.
My wife Leslie recently graduated from divinity school and she’s here with me tonight, a little under the weather. So maybe it’s appropriate that I close with a biblical verse. Galatians 6, chapter 9:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Adiel said something very similar in his statement this afternoon. Everyone here tonight has put their shoulders, worked against odds, to make this a better planet. To make the Internet a reality for all of our fellow citizens. That’s the theme that we’re working with. It seems a proper direction for the path ahead. Thank you very much.
Internet Hall of Fame profile