redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Some of the world’s leading technology companies are joining forces with government agencies and various aid organizations to help bring more affordable Internet access to developing nations. The initiative, dubbed the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), was founded by World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and was officially announced on Monday from Abuja, Nigeria.
The group says it seeks to assist the United Nations’ Broadband Commission in meeting its goal of growing Internet availability throughout all developing nations by 2015 – at a cost of no more than five percent of their citizens’ average monthly income.
Internet access is shockingly expensive in some parts of the world. Indeed, the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimates that fixed broadband currently costs 30 percent of the average monthly wage in developing countries.
The A4AI, which includes tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Intel, says it aims to expand Internet availability while driving down prices through promoting legal policies that foster better access and campaigning against anti-competitive pricing.
“No single solution can connect the 5 billion people living without Internet access today,” wrote Jennifer Haroon, principal executive of Google’s access program, in a blog post on Monday.
Haroon said the Alliance plans to engage with 10 countries by the end of 2015.
Google, which appears to have the largest investment in the group of any tech company, has long been interested in expanding Internet access. Facebook is also working to boost Internet access through Mark Zuckerberg’s nonprofit Internet.org initiative.
But A4AI seems to be taking a more policy-driven approach, including “innovative allocation of spectrum, promoting infrastructure sharing, and increasing transparency and public participation in regulatory decisions.”
Berners-Lee stressed the need for the Alliance to help expand access and lower the cost of Internet services within the developing world.
“The reason for the Alliance is simple – the majority of the world’s people are still not online, usually because they can’t afford to be. In Mozambique, for example, a recent study showed that using just 1GB of data can cost well over two months’ wages for the average citizen,” he said.
“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. The Alliance is about removing that barrier and helping as many as possible get online at reasonable cost.”
An ITU report released on Monday finds 2.7 billion people, or 40 percent of the world’s population, are now online, still leaving six-in-ten without connectivity.