News / Science & Technology

New Group Aims for Affordable Internet Access

Former physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World-Wide Web as an essential tool for High Energy Physics (HEP) at CERN from 1989 to 1994. He is now helping lead an effort to bring the Internet to the developing world.
Former physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World-Wide Web as an essential tool for High Energy Physics (HEP) at CERN from 1989 to 1994. He is now helping lead an effort to bring the Internet to the developing world.

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Millions of people around the world are being left behind, unable to get the information they need to better their lives because they cannot afford internet access.  

Now that is about to change. The newly launched Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) aims to drive down the cost of broadband Internet access in developing countries.

A4AI, which is backed by 30 companies and organizations such as tech titans Google, Microsoft and Facebook as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of State and the UK Department for International Development, wants to help broadband Internet access prices fall to below 5 percent of monthly worldwide income.

The group says this would allow two-thirds of the people currently not connected to connect.

A4AI says that in developed countries the price of fixed broadband as a share of per capita gross national income has dropped 823 percent. Those costs represent only 1.7 percent of monthly income. In the developing world, the price of broadband is a staggering 30.1 percent of average monthly incomes, A4AI reported.

“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, said Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation.

He added that “the result of high prices is a digital divide that slows progress in vital areas such as health, education and science.”

“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,” Berners-Lee said. 

Digital divide will be bridged country by country

A4AI cites some startling statistics about the digital divide. In the developing world, only 31 percent of the population is online, compared to 77 percent in the developed world. Ninety percent of households not connected to the Internet are in the developing world. In Africa, for example, only 16 percent of people are using the Internet, half the penetration rates of Asia.

To bridge the divide, A4AI says it will start with “in-country engagements” with three to four countries and will expand to 15 by the end of 2015. The group plans to issue an annual “Affordability Report” starting this December.

“Nearly two out of every three people don’t have access to the Internet - this is a massive challenge that can’t easily be solved by a single solution or player,” said Jennifer Haroon, Access Principal at Google. “The world needs technical innovation and vision to bring more people online, but we also need a strong policy foundation that allows new ideas to flourish. By working alongside Alliance partners, we can help lay the groundwork needed to drive innovation and bring the power of the Internet to more people," she said.

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