Tim Berners-Lee, father of the Internet, sires the Alliance for Affordable Internet

The A4AI is a global coalition committed to driving down the cost of internet access in less developed countries to below 5% of monthly income worldwide.

A diverse group of private and public sector players have come together to combat what they claim is artificially high internet prices in developing countries. The Alliance for Affordable Internet, A4AI, wants broadband prices below 5% of monthly income, a target set by the UN Broadband Commission. According to the ITU, this goal would help to connect the two-thirds of the world that is presently not connected to the internet making universal access a reality.

The Alliance was initiated by the World Wide Web Foundation, and its honorary chairperson is Dr Bitange Ndemo, the former Permanent Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications, widely regarded as the father of Broadband in Kenya. Appropriately, the A4AI announced itself at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization’s Annual Forum in Abuja, Nigeria.

The Alliance will start its actions in three to four States by the end of 2013, expanding to at least twelve countries by the end of 2015. 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.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation 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 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.”

Some more facts from the Alliance highlight the disparity between the data haves and have nots:

-In the developing world, 31% of the population is online, compared with 77% in the developed world.

-90% of the 1.1 billion households not connected to the Internet are in the developing world.

-In Africa, 16% of people are using the Internet – only half the penetration rate of Asia and the Pacific.

-Between 2009 and 2013, Internet penetration in households has grown fastest in Africa, with annual growth of 27%, followed by 15% annual growth in Asia and the Pacific, the Arab States and the CIS.

-The gender gap is more pronounced in the developing world, where 16% fewer women than men use the Internet, compared with only 2% fewer women than men in the developed world. A recent report from Intel entitled ‘Women and the Web’ suggests that women are 43% less likely to have access to the internet in sub-Saharan Africa, 33% in South Asia, and 34% in Middle East and North Africa.

-In Africa, less than 10% of fixed (wired) broadband subscriptions offer speeds of at least 2 Mbit/s. This is also the case of several countries in Asia and the Pacific, the Americas and some Arab States.

-Over the past five years, fixed-broadband prices as a share of GNI per capita dropped by 82%. By 2012, fixed- broadband prices represented 1.7% of monthly GNI p.c. in developed countries. In developing countries, fixed- broadband services remain expensive, accounting for 30.1% of average monthly incomes.

A4AI members are drawn from both developed and less developed countries and include public, private and not-for-profit organizations.  The World Wide Web Foundation, founded by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners- Lee, initiated the Alliance. Global sponsors are Google, Omidyar Network, USAID and the UK DFID and the Alliance has more than 30 members.