At the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization Annual Forum, being held this week in Abuja, Nigeria, there are high hopes that the newly formed Alliance for Affordable Internet, or A4AI, will be able to move quickly to start reducing the high costs of bandwidth in developing nations.
The A4AI, announced Monday, aims to lead policy and regulatory reform and spur action to drive down artificially high Internet prices which hinder Internet accessibility for two-thirds of people in developing countries.
The A4AI has some heavyweight backers, among which are the CTO, Google, U.S. development agency USAID, and the U.K.'s Department for International Development.
"In Kenya, we saw the number of internet users more than double in a single year after we liberalized markets," noted the honorary chairperson of A4AI, Bitange Ndemo, Nigeria's Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications. "Now we need to spark the same revolution on broadband costs and access, not only in my country but around the world."
Tim Berners-Lee, who wrote some of the protocols on the Web is based, said at the CTO conference that "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."
Berners-Lee added that, "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 A4AI want to remove the barrier of anticompetitive policies and regulations that keep prices unaffordable, Berners-Lee said.
In the developing world, 31 percent of the population is online compared with 77 percent in the developed world, according to the International Telecommunications Union. In Africa, only 16 percent of the population is using the Internet.
The A4AI's plans include starting to work in three to four countries by the end of the year and expanding to at least twelve countries by the end of 2015. It will also produce an annual 'Affordability Report,' with the first edition being unveiled in December 2013. Members of the group are making a commitment to a set of policy best practices that will guide advocacy work at the international level and help drive prices down. The initiative will work to encourage innovative allocation of spectrum, promote infrastructure sharing, and increase transparency and public participation in regulatory decisions.