A diverse group of private and public sector players have come together to launch the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), a coalition to lead policy and regulatory reform and spur action to drive down artificially high Internet prices in developing countries.

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.

A4AI’s 30-plus members reach across boundaries of geography, industry, and organisation type and include governments, companies, and civil society organisations from both developed and developing countries. Members share a belief that that policy reform, underpinned by robust research and genuine knowledge-sharing, is one of the best ways to unlock rapid gains in internet penetration rates.

The alliance was initiated by the World Wide Web Foundation and its honorary chairperson is Dr Bitange Ndemo, former permanent secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications, who is widely regarded as the father of broadband in Kenya.

A4AI has a strong focus on action and announced it plans at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Annual Forum in Abuja, Nigeria:

* The Alliance will begin in-country engagements with three to four states by the end of 2013, expanding to at least 12 countries by the end of 2015.

* Members have committed to a set of policy best practices that will guide advocacy work at the international level. Key policy levers to drive prices down include allowing innovative allocation of spectrum, promoting infrastructure sharing, and increasing transparency and public participation in regulatory decisions.

* A4AI will produce an annual “affordability report”, with the first edition being unveiled in December 2013.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, comments: “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 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 real bottleneck now is anti-competitive policies and regulations that keep prices unaffordable. The Alliance is about removing that barrier and helping as many as possible get online at reasonable cost.”

Dr Ndemo adds: “In Kenya, we saw the number of internet users more than double in a single year after we liberalised markets. 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.”

Jennifer Haroon, access principal at Google, comments: “Nearly two out of every three people don’t have access to the Internet – this is a massive challenge that can’t easily be solved by a single solution or player. 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. 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.”

According to Dr Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID: “The growing digital divide is a global issue that can only be tackled collaboratively, and we are thrilled to be working with the diverse and committed group of the Alliance for Affordable Internet to enable even the most remote and impoverished communities to access the wealth of knowledge and connection that exists in the digital world.