Centre for Internet & Society

A number of government bodies, non-government organizations and private players have joined hands to create a coalition aimed at reducing the cost of internet access worldwide. The coalition -- Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) -- will advocate policy and regulatory reforms to push down the cost of bandwidth in developing and poor countries, where cost of internet access remains very high.

This article was published in the Times of India on October 7, 2013. Sunil Abraham is quoted.

"By advocating for open, competitive and innovative broadband markets, A4AI aims to help access prices fall to below 5% of monthly income worldwide, a target set by the UN Broadband Commission. Reaching this goal can help to connect the two-thirds of the world that is presently not connected to the internet and make universal access a reality," the alliance said in a press note, citing figures provided International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

According to ITU, by 2012, fixed-broadband prices represented 1.7% of monthly gross national income in developed countries. In developing countries, the cost of broadband connection accounts for 30.1% of average monthly income.

The A4AI has the backing of World Wide Web Foundation, which was started by the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee. Sonia Jorge, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet told TOI, "The Web Foundation hosts the A4AI's secretariat and both teams collaborate to benefit from natural synergies among the programmes."

Berners-Lee explained, "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 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 global sponsors of the A4AI are Google, UK Department for International Development, US Agency for International Development and Omidyar Network, an firm that often invests in non-profit entities. But Intel, Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, the US State Department and several other regional and international bodies are also members of A4AI.

From India, Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) is part of the alliance. Sunil Abraham, director of CIS, told TOI his group "hopes to learn from policy work carried out by the alliance and apply the lessons in India where access to good quality broadband services remains prohibitively expensive".

For now there are not many details on how the A4AI is going to achieve its goals. Sonia said it had two telecom companies -- Digicel and Main One - as its members and talks were going on with some other telecom firms for their involvement.

The alliance will begin in-country engagements with three to four countries by the end of 2013, expanding to at least 12 countries by the end of 2015. "We would be very glad to have the opportunity to engage and work in collaboration with the government of India," said Sonia.

A4AI will also produce an annual 'affordability report'. The first edition is expected to come out in December 2013.

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