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Web's inventor Tim Berners-Lee teams with internet firms to boost access

Net's inventor teams with Google, Microsoft and others to provide cheap access in poor countries

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 9:23am

British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has teamed up with Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other organisations in a global coalition to drive down the cost of internet access in less-developed countries.

The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) will be launched today by the World Wide Web Foundation, a not-for-profit group founded by Berners-Lee in 2009, at an international forum in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.

In a statement, Berners-Lee said: "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 one gigabyte of data can cost well over two months' wages for the average citizen."

High prices led to "a widening digital divide that slows progress in vital areas such as health, education and science".

The A4AI aims to help reach the United Nations Broadband Commission's target of entry-level broadband services priced at less than 5 per cent of average monthly income.

"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," Berners-Lee said. "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."

About 31 per cent of the population in so-called developing markets are online, compared with 77 per cent in developed markets, according to data from the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency. About 90 per cent of the 1.1 billion households not connected to the internet are in the developing world.

The International Statistical Institute estimates there are some 144 developing markets worldwide, including China and India. Countries with a gross national income of US$11,905 or less per capita are defined as developing by the World Bank.

The A4A1 represents the second major initiative launched this year that targets broader access to the internet. Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, introduced in August the global partnership called internet.org which includes Ericsson, Nokia, MediaTek and Samsung Electronics as members.

Sonia Jorge, executive director of the A4AI, said the alliance was different from other initiatives because it is "the first to focus specifically on policy and regulatory change".

She added: "The A4AI is the largest and most diverse coalition yet formed to tackle this challenge. We have over 30 members - many from the developing world - and our membership is diverse, incorporating governments and government agencies, civil society organisations, and information and communications technology companies."

Jorge said other key industry players such as Chinese telecommunications equipment suppliers Huawei Technologies and ZTE were welcome to join the alliance after the launch.

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