Google backs project to slash Internet costs worldwide

A new coalition wants to ensure broadband access costs less than 5 percent of monthly incomes

Internet access can be expensive, especially in developing countries. Google is backing a new project that aims to change that.

The search giant said Monday it has helped found the Alliance for Affordable Internet, or A4AI, a global coalition backed by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee that hopes to dramatically cut the cost of Internet access.

Households in developing countries pay roughly a third of their monthly income for a fixed Internet connection, according to figures from the International Telecommunication Union.

"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," Berners-Lee said in a statement.

A4AI has a specific goal: to make broadband service cost less than 5 percent of average monthly income.

It hopes to do that by promoting a set of policy and regulatory best practices, like allowing spectrum to be used in new ways, banning excessive tariffs on telecom equipment and ensuring competition.

Google is a founding member of A4AI, which means it provides significant financial and other support. The other founders are UK Aid, US Aid and the Omidyar Network, an investment firm. Other members include Microsoft, Yahoo and Cisco Systems.

Bringing the Internet to developing countries isn't a new idea. Google already has "Project Loon," which aims to connect people in rural areas using a network of hot air balloons, and it wants to bring broadband to Africa via unused TV broadcast channels.

Only 16 percent of people in Africa use the Internet today, according to the ITU -- half the penetration seen in Asia and the Pacific.

The group will begin its work in two or three countries this year -- it didn't say which ones -- expanding to at least 10 countries by the end of 2015. It will also produce an annual affordability report, with the first edition due in December.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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