Tim Berners-Lee Launches Alliance For Affordable Internet

The new non-profit will campaign for open and competitive broadband markets in the developing world

Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Foundation have today launched the Alliance For Affordable Internet (A4AI), an organisation that aims to lower the cost of broadband in the less connected parts of the world through increased competition.

According to A4AI, in some developing countries Internet access will set you back as much as a third of the average monthly income. The organisation wants to help achieve the target of no more than five percent of monthly income, set by the UN Broadband Commission.

“This new alliance will challenge the anti-competitive regulations and policies that push up prices across the developing world, helping to bring universal Internet access to the world’s poorest people,” explained Justine Greening MP, the UK secretary of state for international development.

A4AIA4AI will begin projects in three countries by the end of 2013, planning to expand participation to at least twelve by the end of 2015.

Last month, Facebook and its partners launched a similar initiative – Internet.org, which aims to make mobile Internet access more affordable, reduce the amount of data consumed by apps and help create ‘new sustainable business models’ in the developing world.

An arm and a leg

Today, only a third of the planet’s population (about 2.7 billion people) enjoys constant Internet access, with penetration rates varying from one region to another.

In the UK, the government is working to connect 99 percent of residents with ‘superfast’ broadband by 2018, and average speeds in the country have increased by a third in the last six months. Meanwhile in Mozambique, using just 1GB of data can cost more than two months’ average wages.

“The result of high prices is a digital divide that slows progress in vital areas such as health, education and science. Yet with the advent of affordable smartphones, new undersea cables and innovations in wireless spectrum usage, there is simply no good reason for the digital divide to continue. The real bottleneck now is anti-competitive policies that keep prices unaffordable,” said Tim Berners-Lee at the launch event in Nigeria.

A4AI and its industry partners, including Google, Yahoo, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco and Facebook, will campaign for regulatory changes that fight the inflation of broadband prices and foster competition.

The organisation hopes to achieve its goals through innovative allocation of spectrum, infrastructure sharing, and increasing transparency and public participation in regulatory decisions. It will also produce an annual ‘Affordability Report’, with the first edition being launched in December 2013.

The regulatory route has worked wonders in the past: in Kenya, the number of Internet users grew twofold after the country’s markets were liberalised. Former permanent secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr Bitange Ndemo, will serve as the honorary chairperson of the A4AI.

But Facebook and A4AI are not the only organisations interested in pushing Internet access to the developing world. In June Google launched 30 high-altitude, solar-powered balloons in New Zealand, collectively known as Project Loon. These balloons are capable of delivering Internet access at 3G speeds to specialised antennas on the ground below, and could be rolled out in Africa and other regions where Internet access is patchy.

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