Sir Tim Berners-Lee gives a speech at the Campus Party Italia 2019 on July 25, 2019 in Milan, Italy.
Rosdiana Ciaravolo | Getty Images
LONDON — Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist credited with inventing the web in 1989, is concerned that a global “digital divide” is taking place because too many young people are unable to get online.
In a letter published Friday, Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith, co-founders of the non-profit Web Foundation, wrote: “Far too many young people remain excluded and unable to use the web to share their talents and ideas.”
They believe that world leaders should make internet connectivity a top priority in the post-Covid era, arguing that every young person who can’t connect represents a “lost opportunity for new ideas and innovations that can serve humanity.”
They want governments to provide universal broadband by 2030. “We can’t afford not to do it,” they wrote.
A third of people aged 15 to 24 have no internet access at all, according to U.N. agency the International Telecommunication Union.
“Many more lack the data, devices, and reliable connection they need to make the most of the web,” wrote Berners-Lee and Leith in the Web Foundation’s annual letter on what is the 32nd birthday of the world wide web.
“In fact, only the top third of under-25s have a home internet connection, according to UNICEF, leaving 2.2 billion young people without the stable access they need to learn online, which has helped so many others continue their education during the pandemic.”
Internet access should be recognized as a basic right in the same way that electricity was in the last century, according to Berners-Lee and Leith, who say that connecting every young person to the internet would be relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of many government initiatives launched in the last year.
The internet has been a vital utility for young people who have been unable to attend school over the last 12 months due to Covid-19. However, many young people have missed out on virtual learning due to a lack of connectivity or a lack of devices at home.
Work also needs to be done to protect young people when they do go on the internet, according to Berners-Lee and Leith.
“When young people do get online, too often they are confronted with abuse, misinformation, and other dangerous content, which threatens their participation and can force them from platforms altogether,” they wrote.
“This is especially true for those disproportionately targeted on the basis of their race, religion, sexuality, abilities, and gender.”