A diverse group of private and public sector players got together this morning to launch the Alliance for Affordable Internet, A4AI, a coalition to that aims to lead policy and regulatory reform and to spur action to drive down high internet prices in developing countries. The alliance aims to help access prices fall to below 5% of monthly income worldwide, a target set by the UN Broadband Commission, by advocating for open, competitive and innovative broadband markets. Just by reaching this goal, it is believed that two-thirds of the world that is presently not connected to the internet will be connected helping make universal access an actual reality.
A4AI already has more than 30 members with reach across diverse geographies, industries, and organisational types including governments, companies, and civil society organisations from both developed and developing countries. Its members share a belief that policy reform is one of the best ways to unlock gains in terms of internet penetration rates. The Alliance was initiated by the World Wide Web Foundation. Its honorary chairperson, Dr. Bitange Ndemo, is the immediate former Kenya PS in the Ministry of Information and Communications. Dr. Ndemo is widely regarded as the ‘Father’ of Broadband in Kenya because of the ‘internet for everyone’ initiatives that he led in Kenya.
“In Kenya, we saw the number of internet users more than double in a single year after we liberalized markets. Now we need to spark the same revolution on broadband costs and access, not only in my country but around the world. To achieve this, we will use our combined voices, leadership and expertise to press for fair, competitive and socially responsible markets.” said chairperson Ndemo.
The Alliance has been given a good backing by many influential people like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation.
He 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 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.”
Some of the action plans announced by the A4AI include:
- The Alliance will begin in-country engagements with 3-4 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 (enclosed) 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
Jennifer Haroon, the Strategy and Operations Principal at Google commented and said that “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.”
Ory Okolloh, formerly a Policy Manager for Africa with Google and now Director of Investments at the Omidyar Network, added “The lack of affordable internet access in emerging markets is a key barrier to large-scale innovation, which in turn stifles social and economic advancement. Omidyar Network is delighted to help lead the formation of the Alliance for Affordable Internet to address this problem. The Alliance has the potential to help millions of people in the developing world come online, unlocking opportunities for them to access information and services that can meaningfully improve their lives.”
Others who weighed in include Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID and Professor Tim Unwin, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation who both backed the A4AI initiative.