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W3C cuts member fees to help developing countries

Group bring fight against digital divide to Web standards arena, giving discounts to small organizations in developing nations.

Bringing the fight against the digital divide to the Web standards arena, the World Wide Web Consortium slashed membership fees for small organizations in developing nations.

Claiming that its existing fee schedule discouraged such groups from joining, the Web's main standards body on Wednesday said it had given small companies and nonprofits in lower-income countries a 15 percent to 60 percent fee reduction.

"We want interests and needs of a larger community to be represented in the work that we do," said W3C representative Ian Jacobs, who added that the fee reductions were part of a larger international outreach effort. "The World Wide Web requires input from the whole world."

The W3C's new fee schedule, effective April 1, groups nations into four categories established by the World Bank: high-income, upper-middle income, lower-middle income and low-income.

The W3C's base annual membership fee remains $57,500 for companies with annual revenues of $50 million or more. (The W3C calculates fees in dollars, euros or yen, depending on geography.)

The W3C had already offered a steep discount to all other organizations, including smaller companies, educational and government agencies. Those groups had paid one-tenth of the base sum.

Now the W3C has introduced a new revenue level at the low end that qualifies smaller organizations in lower-income countries for even steeper discounts.

The World Bank's classifications may raise some eyebrows among some in high tech. India, increasingly seen as a self-sufficient economic powerhouse with a thriving computer technology industry, qualifies as a low-income country under the classifications.

"We considered a number of different classifications, and chose this one because it had to do with income," Jacobs said. "Even if the tech community is thriving in parts of the world that the World Bank characterizes as developing in some way, the discounts still make sense in terms of the local economy."