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The government will work alongside tech giants such as Google and Facebook to help Sir Tim Berners-Lee in his mission to lower the barriers to get people online in developing parts of the world.
The Alliance for Affordable Internet, founded by Berners-Lee, will work with governments in Asia and Africa to try and remove unnecessary regulations and anti-competitive policies to make it easier for internet infrastructure to be installed. Issues around taxes and state telecoms monopolies were also cited as barriers to getting better web access.
Berners-Lee said tackling these issues was vital to help the internet spread and empower more people in remote locations. He cited an example in Mozambique where a study showed using 1GB of data can cost over two months' wages.
“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,” he 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.”
Justine Greening, secretary of state for International Development, said the government is keen to give its backing to the initiative as it will have huge benefits for millions of people. “Internet access has been a driver of economic growth. It puts power in the hands of people and opens up societies. Yet for millions of people across the world high prices still put it out of reach,” she said.
“This new alliance will challenge the anti-competitive regulations and policies that push up prices across the developing world, helping to bring universal internet access to the world’s poorest people.”
The involvement of world-leading tech giants such as Google is a huge benefit for the project too. Jennifer Haroon, access principal at Google, said the firm was hoping its technological innovation and expertise could help, as it already works on this issue, as seen by Project Loon in New Zealand.
“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,” she said. “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."
Other backers of the Alliance include Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent and Microsoft, while the honorary chairperson is Bitange Ndemo, the former secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communication, who helped liberalise the broadband landscape in the country.
"In Kenya, we saw the number of internet users more than double in a single year after we liberalised markets,” he said. “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.”