Broadband has become a lifeline. In the Covid-19 age, internet access lets us do our jobs, educate our kids, reach our doctors, access finances and find entertainment in monotonous times. The hundreds of millions of people without it struggle for work, education, healthcare, and banking.
As the Covid-189 pandemic makes internet access more crucial and broadband inequality more dire, the World Economic Forum has recruited top corporate leaders across critical industries to launch Edison Alliance. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg will chair the new board that includes Mastercard Executive Chair Ajay Banga, the Executive Vice President of Apollo Hospitals Sbobana Kamineni, Vista Equity Partner CEO Robert Smith, and Rwanda’s technology minister Paula Ingabire. Other backers include Google’s CFO Ruth Porat, American Tower CEO Thomas Barlett, Boston Consulting Group CEO Rich Lesser, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano R. Amon, and the World Economic Forum’s Klaus Schwab.
“This pandemic has made remote learning, telemedicine, financial inclusion, and mobility leap forward by five to seven years,” says Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg. “Universal internet is good for society if you do it right. It means it doesn’t matter where you are born—you can get the same services and opportunities as anybody else.”
While events like Davos can be notorious for high profile meetings with lots of talk and little action, the Edison Alliance was structured to have teeth. The group has a formal governance calendar of board meetings and milestones throughout the year. Top deputies from each company will meet regularly to push goals, tackle problems, and maintain momentum. While no specific information has been released, sources say that each company will provide impactful cash and resources to expand broadband for health, financial inclusion, and education. Verizon, for example, has spent more than $500 million over the last decade to fight digital deserts across America.
Of course, what’s good for society is good for business. Universal broadband means universal customers for each company involved. The Edison Alliance follows the growing trend of responsible capitalism, with corporate leaders taking a larger activist role to address societal and environmental problems. “It’s a great example of CEO statesmanship. Global business leaders are invested in solving some of society’s most intractable challenges,” says Alan Fleischmann, Founder of global CEO advisory firm Laurel Strategies. “They each wield these incredible leadership platforms and are using them to marshal the best of private, public, and civil society to overcome the obstacles that prevent inclusivity and diversity and opportunity worldwide.”
The obstacles to universal broadband are daunting and complex. Wiring the world would require massive communication infrastructure, an army of experts to maintain it, millions of personal gadgets to access it, and robust education to teach communities how to harness the tools. Still, for Verizon‘s Vestberg, Covid-19 has created a make-or-break opportunity for tech. “This is a pivotal moment for the world. If we don’t make mobility, broadband, and cloud access available to everyone, we are will only get more inequalities across the globe.”