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Big tech companies, governments join alliance for cheaper internet

Internet connection

A group of private sector players, including Google and the Omidyar Network have joined forces with governments around the world in a bid to provide cheaper internet.

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The grouping, which is called the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), claims to be a coalition to “lead policy and regulatory reform and spur action to drive down artificially high internet prices in developing countries”.

“By advocating for open, competitive and innovative broadband markets,” the group says in a press release, “A4AI aims to help access prices fall to below five percent of monthly income worldwide, a target set by the UN Broadband Commission”.

Reaching this goal, it says, can help to connect the two-thirds of the world that is presently not connected to the internet and make universal access a reality.

Its members, it says, “share a belief that policy reform, underpinned by robust research and genuine knowledge-sharing, is one of the best ways to unlock rapid gains in internet penetration rates”.

The Alliance was initiated by the World Wide Web Foundation, and its honorary chairperson is Dr Bitange Ndemo, the immediate former Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications, who is widely regarded as the father of broadband in Kenya.

According to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, the reason for the Alliance’s existence 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”.

“The result of high prices is a widening 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 and regulations that keep prices unaffordable. The Alliance is about removing that barrier and helping as many as possible get online at reasonable cost.”

Forming this kind of alliance is all well and good, but how does A4AI actually plan to implement its various policies?

Well, it has issued a road map of how it plans to get going:

  • The Alliance will begin in-country engagements with three to four states by the end of 2013, expanding to at least twelve countries by the end of 2015.
  • Members have committed to a set of policy best practices that will guide advocacy work at the international level. Key policy levers to drive prices down include allowing innovative allocation of spectrum, promoting infrastructure sharing, and increasing transparency and public participation in regulatory decisions.
  • A4AI will produce an annual ‘Affordability Report’, with the first edition being unveiled in December 2013.

You might note that there’s no real commitment there from the private sector players to do anything more than they currently are. That, it seems, is largely down to the fact the alliance believes that the big problem is over regulation and anti-competitive practices.

Its position is pretty much that if the conditions are right, the infrastructure providers will flood in, making we access much more affordable. People around the world will be hoping it’s right.

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