Google, allies aim to spread Internet to poorer parts of globe

The Alliance for Affordable Internet aims to cut Net costs from 30 percent of monthly income to 5 percent. Other members include US and UK government agencies, Facebook, and Microsoft.

Alliance for Affordable Internet logo

In a new effort to bring Internet access to the world's billions, Google, US and UK government organizations, and a raft of high-tech partners on Monday announced the Alliance for Affordable Internet.

Google is one of four founders along with the US Agency for International Development, the UK Department for International Development, and the Omidyar network, a philanthropic organization run by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam. Other members include Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Intel, Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, African ISP MainOne, and Caribbean carrier Digicel. The group aims to steer countries toward policy and regulatory change that will foster better wireless and wired Internet access.

"A4AI has a specific goal in mind: to reach the UN Broadband Commission target of entry-level broadband access priced at less than 5% of monthly income worldwide," said Jennifer Haroon, principal executive of Google's access program, in a blog post. The UN's International Telecommunication Union said a fixed Internet connection in developing economies costs significantly more than that -- about 30 percent of monthly income.

The organization plans to engage with 10 countries by the end of 2015, Haroon said. It's got advice on good regulatory practices (PDF) for matters such as managing wireless spectrum, licensing network operators, avoiding "excessive" import taxes on telecommunications gear that might otherwise face luxury-product tariffs.

Bringing Internet access can have many effects over how people do business, connect socially, and as evidenced by Arab Spring, govern themselves. For high-tech companies, it also can mean poor countries become growth markets.

Google has long been interested in expanding Internet access, for example with its investment in O3b for inexepensive satellite data links and Project Loon for balloon-based broadband. Facebook, too, is angling for major Internet expansion with an effort called Internet.org.

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