Web alliance removes barriers to online access

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The initiative, which is backed by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, plans to encourage the driving down of artificially high prices in developing countries. The alliance also aims to help internet access prices fall to below five per cent of monthly income worldwide.

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

“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 added that the high prices widen the digital divide, which slows down the progress of vital areas such as healthcare, education and science. While the advent of smartphones have allowed for a number of people in developing countries easier and cheaper access to the internet, rates still remain exorbitantly high.

The Alliance plans to address the anti-competitive policies and regulations, as well as removing other barriers that prevent more affordable online access. Global sponsors of the alliance include Google, Omidyar Network, USAID and a number of technology companies, governments and civil society organisations.

Jennifer Haroon, access principal at Google said, “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. 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.”

Between 2009 and 2013, internet penetration in households has grown fastest in Africa, with annual growth of 27 per cent. This was followed by a 15 per cent annual growth in Asia, the Pacific and the Arab States. However, less than 10 per cent of fixed broadband subscriptions offer speeds of at least two megabits per second in the continent. This is also the case of several countries in Asia and the Pacific, the Americas and some Arab States.

“The creation of the Alliance for Affordable Internet is timely and important. By working together in carefully crafted partnerships, we can seek to redress this balance and turn rhetoric into reality,” said Professor Tim Unwin, secretary general of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation.