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October 9, 2013

International alliance launched for cheaper internet in developing countries

It aims to reduce price of internet access to below 5% of a person's monthly income.

By CBR Staff Writer

Several private and public sector institutions have collaborated to launch the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), which aims to cut the cost of internet access in developing countries.

Backed by web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the sponsors for the alliance include Google, Omidyar Network, UK DFID and USAID, which are accompanied by several governments, tech firms and civil society organisations belonging to developed and developing countries.

The coalition, which also involves other firms including Facebook, Intel, Microsoft and Yahoo, will work to take on unnecessary rules and regulations as well as anti-competitive policies.

Sir Tim said that 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," Berners-Lee 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.

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"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."

A4AI aims to reduce the price of internet access to below 5% of a person’s monthly income, which is a target already set by the UN Broadband Commission.

The move would also be targeted at making universal internet access a reality by assisting in connecting the two-thirds of the world which is currently not connected to the internet.

With an initial launch in Nigeria, the A4AI group will start in-country working with about three to four countries by late 2013, further expanding to about twelve countries by the end of 2015.

A4AI chairperson Dr Bitange Ndemo said that in Kenya, the number of internet users have more than doubled in a single year.

"Now we need to spark the same revolution on broadband costs and access, not only in my country but around the world," Ndemo said.

"To achieve this, we will use our combined voices, leadership and expertise to press for fair, competitive and socially responsible markets."

Reports reveal that about less than a third of the population in developing countries is currently online, compared to 77% of people in the developed world.

Members of the alliance consider that that policy reform, supported by strong research and genuine knowledge-sharing, forms one of the best ways to see a rapid rise in internet penetration rates.

UK International Development Secretary of State Justine Greening said that over the last twenty years the web has changed society so much that everyday life seems unimaginable without it.

"Internet access has been a driver of economic growth. It puts power in the hands of people and opens up societies. Yet for millions of people across the world high prices still put it out of reach," Greening said.

"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."

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