Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with founding the World Wide Web as we know it today, has made no secret of the fact that he always wanted the internet to be available to everybody.
His famous quote, “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect,” underlines his desire for the Internet to be available globally, and his work with the World Wide Web Foundation (WWW3) in the past has helped him go some way towards securing that vision.
In recent years, Berners-Lee has been working with WWW3 to help create a coalition of private sector, public sector, and other organisations, that come together with the shared aim of making the Internet available and affordable to people in developing countries. This global initiative, called the Alliance for Affordable Internet (or A4AI) aims to help billions more users to get online.
The Alliance currently has 30 powerful supporters, including big-name corporations such as Google, Yahoo, Intel, Microsoft and Facebook. Facebook has even started its own related initiative, Internet.org. The Alliance is working with governments to facilitate policy reform, while Internet.org is trying to actively get costs reduced through cheaper infrastructure and data transmission.
Despite what we might think in developed countries where the Internet is something we take for granted, the majority of the world’s population still isn’t online. Internet.org estimates that two thirds of the population have no way of accessing the Internet, usually because they can’t afford to. In countries such as Mozambique, for example, 2GB of data would cost an average person around two months’ salary.
Due to the extortionate prices in these developing countries, progress in areas such as health, education and science is slow. It also affects global business and commerce, damaging the economies of countries without the accessibility to online e-commerce that the developed world enjoys. The untapped potential in developing countries is being hindered by a lack of access to information and communication, and A4AI is working to rectify the situation.
Tim Berners-Lee believes that there’s no reason for a digital divide – after all, we now have affordable smartphones and under seas cables that should make digital technology much cheaper for the masses. The Alliance will be working hard to facilitate change, and remove the anti-competitive prices that artificially inflate broadband costs and keep so many people offline. This, and the work of organisations such as Internet.org, should help to encourage a more competitive marketplace.
The Alliance wants to help developing countries to reduce their charges to less than 5% of monthly income, a figure set by the UN Broadband Commission. In most developed nations, the average cost is as little as 2%. A4AI has already seen some success with this project. Liberalising markets in Kenya saw Internet use double in the space of a year, which in turn helped to boost the country’s economy. Exports of technology-related services from Kenya jumped from £11m in 2002 to around £300m in 2013.
The Alliance has big plans – it will be working with the governments of up to twelve countries in the next three years, with the aim to help as many people as possible to reap the benefits of the Internet.
Written by Alexandra Johnson, a technology fan and fan of Tim Berners-Lee!