In the 21st century, you could argue that Internet access is almost as important as literacy. In much of the developed world, Internet access is affordable and easily available. In the third world, it's often neither affordable nor available. The newly created Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) seeks to make the Internet accessible to almost anyone, anywhere.
Just how expensive is the Internet in some countries? Jennifer Haroon, Google's Access Principal, wrote, "Imagine a world where you spent 30 percent of your monthly income on basic Internet service. Could you pay? What might you have to give up? For billions of people, these costs—and questions—are an unaffordable reality that stops them from accessing the Web."
The A4AI aims to "drive down artificially high Internet prices in developing countries. By advocating for open, competitive and innovative broadband markets, A4AI aims to help access prices fall to below 5 percent of monthly income worldwide." By reaching this goal the A4IA "can help connect the two-thirds of the world that is presently not connected to the Internet and make universal access a reality."
To make this happen, the A4AI announced the following plans at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization's Annual Forum in Abuja, Nigeria:
- The Alliance will begin in-country engagements with three to four countries 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 (PDF Link) that will guide advocacy work at the international level. These policies will 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.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Web's inventor and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation said in a statement:
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.
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.
The eventual goal, which would bring 2-billion more users to the Internet, sounds too idealistic to be true, but with both corporate backers such as Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Facebook, and government backers including the US State Department, the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), and the Omidyar Network, this group has far more resources than most organizations.