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Google, Facebook, and Tim Berners-Lee back global drive to bring affordable Internet to all

A more affordable Internet is in the works, with the help of tech heavyweights like Google, Facebook, Intel, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

The companies, among other private and public sector sponsors, are collectively launching the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), aimed at lowering the cost of web access in developing countries.

"New technologies play a crucial role in bringing the Internet to more people worldwide — we've developed and invested in many of these big ideas over the years," Google Access Principal Jennifer Haroon said in a blog post.

Citing the company's previous efforts to offer balloon-powered Internet access and bring broadband to Africa, Haroon admitted that while these technologies do have an impact, "no single solution can connect five billion people living without Internet access today."

A4AI intends to connect the remaining two-thirds of the world currently without Internet, beginning with engagement in a few areas before the end of the year, before expanding to at least a dozen countries by 2015.

Backed by major tech players like Google, Cisco, Ericsson, Facebook, Intel, Microsoft, and Yahoo, the A4AI also snagged a number of national and international groups, including the US State Department, the government of Sweden, the Internet Society, the UK Department for International Development, and USAID.

To ensure international advocacy, all 32 A4AI members have pledged to drive down prices by getting creative in their allocation of spectrum, by promoting infrastructure sharing, and by increasing transparency and public participation in regulatory decisions.

"The reason for the Alliance is simple," according to Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web Foundation. "The majority of the world's people are still not online, usually because they can't afford to be."

Citing a recent study, Berners-Lee said that using just 1GB of data can cost an average citizen in Mozambique more than two months' wages.

"The result of high prices is a digital divide that slows progress in vital areas such as health, education and science," he continued. "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."

Dr. Bitange Ndemo, honorary chairperson of A4AI and the "Father of Broadband" in Kenya, made the call for the world to "use our combined voices, leadership and expertise to press to fair, competitive and socially responsible markets."

Facebook already has a head start on global Internet. Back in August, it unveiled, which seeks to increase access to the web, and bring the Internet "to the next five billion people."

Image Credit: Flickr (CharlesFred)