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Internet for all: Tech alliance seeks affordable web access for the poor

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 7, 2013 10:20 EDT
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Students prepare for an exam in front of their computers at Kuala Lumpur-based Asia e University (AeU) in August 2012 via AFP
 
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Accessing the Internet in the developing world is unnecessarily expensive, partly due to government policies that hinder competition and should be scrapped, a new alliance backed by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft said Monday.

The Alliance for Affordable Internet, which launched in Nigeria’s capital, said it will push for an “open, competitive and innovative broadband market” to boost access, especially in Africa, where only 16 percent of the population is online.

Other members of the alliance include the British and US development agencies, as well as Facebook and the inventor of the World Wide Web, Britain’s Tim Berners-Lee.

“There is simply no good reason for the digital divide to continue,” Berners-Lee said in a statement, arguing that the infrastructure and technology needed to fully connect poorer countries was increasingly in place.

“The real bottleneck now is anti-competitive policies and regulations that keep prices unaffordable. The alliance is about removing that barrier,” he added.

The initiative’s executive director, Sonia Jorge, told AFP that Ethiopia’s telecommunication policy “is an example of exactly what you don’t want to see.”

The state operator, Ethio Telecom, holds a near monopoly as a broadband service provider and the cost of connection is among the highest in the world when compared to monthly income, according to the US watchdog Freedom House.

Despite its roughly 90 million people, Ethiopia had only 27,000 broadband subscriptions in 2011. Significant price reductions were announced last year in an effort to boost access, however.

The alliance said its goal is to reduce the cost of access to below five percent of monthly income worldwide.

In developed countries, people in 2012 spent on average 1.7 percent of monthly income for broadband while in the developing world the figure was 30.1 percent, according to the new group.

Prices have gone down in several areas, in part due to infrastructure improvements, including under-sea cables.

Following its Monday launch in Nigeria, the group will begin working in four countries, campaigning for liberal, open-market policies where private firms freely compete to provide lower cost broadband services.

“It is important that the playing field is level,” Jorge told AFP.

In some African countries, despite a flurry of new players in the market offering a range of services many feel “that prices haven’t really changed that much,” Jorge said, adding the competition policies may need to be refined so that people actually “reap the benefit.”

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
 
 
 
 
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